REPAIRED COVER - PNG 2 - darkerREPAIRED BY LOVE

© 2004 by Sandra Conner

Chapter One

“Hey, Lee! . . . you guys open yet?” The question came from a sixteen year-old, redheaded boy standing just outside the office door of Butler’s Auto Service & Repair. Not being in possession of much patience, he then began pounding on the window and finally saw the door open wide.

“For Pete’s sake, Jimmy, hold your horses, will ya! We’re trying to get open.” The man speaking was every bit of six and a half feet tall and strongly built. His height and handsomely sculptured features clearly indicated strong Cherokee ancestry, as did his bronzed skin. The unexpected feature was his thick, sandy hair. At thirty-six, it already had a few silver streaks, but that by no means detracted from his looks. In fact, more than one girl’s heart beat a little faster when she was in the company of Lionel Butler, but if he knew it, he didn’t take much notice.

He was a little aggravated at being forced to open up before he and his brother had had their coffee, but as he looked at the boy’s worried face, his own face softened. “What’s up, Jimmy? You must have a serious problem if you’re up and over here before 7:00 in the morning.”

“I sure do, Lee. My battery’s dead as a doornail, and I gotta get Mom up to Knoxville to a doctor’s appointment by 9:00. That thing’s gone dead on me several times this month, and I’m afraid to just put a charger on it, because by the time Mom’s done, and we’re ready to come home, it might be dead again. Can you help me?”

Lionel — whose friends had called him “Lee” since high school — knew exactly what Jimmy meant. Hadn’t he been responsible for getting his own mother to the doctor, and just about every place else she needed to go, when he was just Jimmy’s age? And he knew the boy didn’t have the money for a new battery.

“Sure, Jimmy. You come on in and sit down a few minutes, and I’ll put a new battery in for you and get you on your way.”

“Thanks a lot, Lee. I knew you’d help. And I’ll pay you for it a little at a time if that’s all right. I’m working part-time at Carver’s grocery now, you know.”

Lionel patted the boy on the back and shoved a box of fresh donuts toward him as he sat in a chair by the desk. “I know you will, Jimmy. And there’s no rush. What’s one battery more or less between friends?” He smiled his generous, easy grin at the boy. “Besides there’s way too much cholesterol in that box for just Darrin and me, so you can help us out by eating two or three donuts while you’re waiting,” he added, as he stepped through another door to locate a battery.

All the time he was installing the battery, Lionel was remembering … remembering all the doctor’s appointments for his own mom, and how sick she’d been at the last when the doctor had told her that her heart just wouldn’t work enough anymore. Dr. Gordon had mentioned a transplant, but, of course, that had been out of the question. There was hardly ever enough money for food, let alone some sophisticated operation.

“Ouch!” He’d been so busy thinking hard thoughts, he hadn’t realized he had his fingers in the wrong place for one split second. That was enough to pinch two of them hard enough he’d have a blood blister or two out of it. He’d better get his mind on what he was doing. Jimmy needed to get going.

He managed to get the boy off in time to make his trip to Knoxville, and as Lionel watched him drive away, he hung his head, more memories flooding through him.

Jimmy didn’t know where his dad was, but Lionel had known his was there all the time. Of course, he used to wish he’d go away. In fact he’d even prayed that God would make him go away, but after a couple of years of that with no results, Lionel had decided that prayer wasn’t working for him.

But then it hadn’t really worked for his mother either, as far as he could tell. She went to church every week, but her life wasn’t any better as a result – at least as far as he could see. His dad stayed drunk half the time, and never provided enough money for their living expenses. His mom had been forced to work at cleaning houses and offices six days a week just to keep food on the table.

Of course, her church friends had brought stuff by once in a while, but that had only made Lionel feel worse. He hadn’t liked being around them because he felt like a beggar when they came with sacks of groceries or second-hand clothes. But his mom had almost never missed a service at her church, and she’d always insisted the boys go at least once a month with her, even though their dad didn’t approve. And she’d prayed. … How she’d prayed … for all of them. … He’d often heard her in the wee hours of the morning, and he’d known she’d be on her knees in front of the living room sofa. He’d known because he’d sneaked out of bed and found her there asleep on her knees more than once, after he’d heard her crying and praying for hours.

But what hurt him most … even in his memories … were the times that his dad had hit his mother. He hadn’t done it all the time, and he’d always said he was sorry later, but that didn’t matter to Lionel. More than once, after he was in high school, he would have knocked his dad down and beat the life out of him if his mother hadn’t pleaded with him not to do so.

“Your daddy just needs the Lord, Lionel,” she’d say. “And God will answer my prayers. You’ll see. One of these days, your daddy’s gonna get saved, and then we’ll be a happy family. But in the mean time, you and Darrin are my happiness, and I don’t ever want you to start believing that getting angry and hitting people will solve anything.”

She’d have her arm around him when she said all that, and then she’d pull back and look him straight in the eye. “Now, you promise me you won’t ever let anger or violence take control of your thoughts or actions, Son.”

“All right, Mom,” he’d always answered. “I promise.”

“Good. And I want you to promise me two more things: that you’ll read at least a few verses from your Bible every day, and that every night, before you go to sleep, you’ll pray Jesus will help you to know Him personally.”

“Prayer doesn’t work for me, Mom,” had been his most frequent answer.

“Prayer works for everybody who believes, Lionel.”

“Then I don’t believe.”

The look of sadness in her eyes had always hurt him, but he hadn’t known what else to say and be honest, and she had instilled the need for honesty in him when he was still a toddler.

“You will believe one day, Lionel,” she’d told him, again and again. “You just keep reading your Bible and asking Jesus to make Himself real to you, and you will believe.

Tears trickled down his cheeks now, as he stood out in the drive of his shop. It hadn’t happened the way his mother had said it would. He had tried for that last year of her life to obey her wishes, but it hadn’t happened. And then when she had slipped from this life just a week after his eighteenth birthday, he knew he’d never believe. He didn’t want to believe in a God who would let his beautiful mother live the way she had been forced to live all those years.

He shook his head now, to clear away those dreadful memories. Darrin had been able to believe … but then Lionel had always done his best to shield his younger brother from the horrible realities of their life. Maybe it was easier for Darrin to believe in this God. But nothing had ever come easy for Lionel, and he’d stopped trying to grasp hold of faith a long time ago. He had friends who were good Christians. He liked them and admired them, and he even went to a service now and then, but he just couldn’t find it in him to go beyond that.

He turned now and walked with heavy steps back into his shop to get started on the repair work he had scheduled for today.

By 5:00 that evening, his brother Darrin was straightening up some paper work in the office while Lionel filled out an itemized statement for the customer who was due to pick up his van any minute.

“You look beat, Lee,” Darrin said, as he stopped and faced his brother. “Do you want me to wait on Mr. Reynolds, and you go on home and get a shower and relax?”

Lionel looked up at his brother, who had worked just as hard the whole day. “I’m sure you’re just as tired,” he said and then grinned at Darrin. “Although I’ll have to say you don’t look it. I guess it’s having a beautiful wife and daughter to go home to that makes the difference.”

“You bet it does!” Darrin said, grinning broadly and slapping his brother on the back. “I keep telling you, Lee, it’s time you got married and had a family of your own.”

Lionel shook his head. “You know my answer to that, Darrin.”

“Yeah, that same nutty rig-a-marole about not being a good husband and father. . . . You know my answer to that!”

Lionel did know, and it wasn’t something he felt he could deal with right now, so he let it drop. Besides, he knew the real reason he felt so much more exhausted than Darrin, and it had nothing to do with not having someone to go home to. It had everything to do with remembering what he had had to go home to for all those years before. The days he remembered were the days he was too exhausted to move by the time he got back to his apartment.

It would be the same tonight. He’d force himself into the shower and then have a pizza delivered, and sit in front of the TV until he dozed off. Maybe tomorrow he wouldn’t remember so much … or feel that unexplainable emptiness so deeply.

“Why don’t you come and eat with us? You know Eve always fixes enough for two more people, and Delly’s been asking when Uncle Lee is coming to supper again. It has been a week since you were there.”

“Not tonight, Darrin, but thanks.”

They heard a car door slam, and Lionel got up to go out to the drive. “That’s probably Mr. Reynolds. His daughter was going to drop him off for his van. You go on, and be sure and give Delly a kiss for me.”

“Okay. I’m going out the back and pick up some tools to take home and work on the lawnmower. See you in the morning.”

Two hours later, Lionel was finishing off his pizza, his feet propped on his coffee table, and an old Andy Griffith Show on the television. At least that show always made him laugh, and he usually felt more like himself after watching one or two episodes. He got up to throw away the pizza box during a commercial, and laughed a little at himself, talking out loud. “Well, at least I turn to old TV shows and pizza when I’m feeling miserable. I don’t try to go out and drown my sorrows in liquor or drugs.”

The thought stopped him in his tracks. Why didn’t he? … Why hadn’t he ever turned to those things when he felt sad or empty inside? Most people did; why not him? … Another memory flashed into his mind: His mother praying again … praying for the Lord to keep her sons free from all of the unclean habits so tempting to young boys. … He shook his head. … It couldn’t be that those prayers were making the difference. … He shook his head again. He didn’t believe in prayer anymore. … But he had to wonder … he had to wonder.
~

Chapter 2

“Well, that looks like everything we need to have your mail forwarded, Miss Wallace,” the postal clerk said as she glanced up at the girl sanding on the other side of the counter. “The order should become effective tomorrow.”

“That’s great,” Kana Wallace replied. “Thanks a lot,” she added, smiling at the clerk before she turned to leave. That smile lit up her rather ordinary face and put a definite sparkle in her large, chocolate brown eyes. Those eyes couldn’t be ignored, and they did a good job of redeeming her face from plainness.

“I hope you enjoy your extended vacation,” the clerk said. Kana thanked her once more and smiled briefly at the elderly man who had stepped up to the counter to take her place. She hurried to her car and made a fast trip back to the elementary school where she taught second grade. It wasn’t easy trying to do something like this on her lunch hour, but tomorrow would be the end of the year picnic, and then the next day was the last day of school. If she didn’t get these arrangements made, she wouldn’t be able to take off as soon as the kids had left.

She wouldn’t have had to be in a hurry, of course, but she was. She was looking forward to seeing Gram again, and spending two wonderful months with her in her hometown of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Kana had often visited her there as a small child, and she had always loved the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as all of the fun things to do in a town that catered to tourists.

For someone who was a miniature golf nut, as she was, it was an especially good place to visit, even as an adult. But the view of the mountains and their quiet strength and restfulness were the biggest attraction for her now — except for Gram herself, of course. She chuckled to herself now as she recalled that everyone in Gram’s church called her Grandma Nora, mostly because she virtually adopted most of the young people at one time or another, and was an active part of their growing up years. And Pastor McDaniels always called on her when he was counseling single ladies or young girls.

Yes, Kana was pretty proud of Gram. She was some special lady, and she definitely didn’t look or act seventy-six. Her faith was unshakable, and her devotion to prayer her first priority. Kana knew firsthand the effectiveness of Gram’s prayers. They had been prayed, and answered, for her personally a number of times in her twenty-nine years. And she hoped that she would always be as faithful in her walk with God as Gram had been.

She swung into her parking spot now and almost ran into the school, hoping she would get to the classroom at least as soon as the students. And she just barely made it. She smiled at her young charges as they crowded in, their noise level especially high from the excitement of being at the end of another year.

“Miss Wallace,” Danny Hart ran up to her, shouting her name. “Miss Wallace can I show my map now … can I?”

“As soon as we’ve all settled into our seats, we’ll have our show and tell time, Danny.”

“Good,” he said, grinning and showing a missing tooth. “Cause I want all the kids to see where I’m going for vacation.”

“I’m sure they’ll enjoy seeing your map, Danny. Now just sit down, and let’s get everyone quiet. … Children, settle down now, or we’ll have to give up our show and tell time in order to go over our classroom rules again.”

That little suggestion had the desired effect. Almost immediately, twenty rambunctious eight-year-olds scurried to their seats and started to lower their conversations to whispers.

“Good. … Now who all has something to show and tell about today?”

Two hours later, she saw her kids down the hall and out to their buses and their parents’ waiting cars. Then breathing a deep sigh of relief, she looked at the third-grade teacher, Valentina, who was also her best friend. “Do you think we’ll survive tomorrow?”

Valentina laughed her delightful, bubbly laugh. “It seems a little questionable, but I’m determined to survive. I don’t intend to bite the dust and miss my well-earned vacation.” She was an extremely pretty girl, a year younger than Kana. She had thick, sable hair that she wore in relaxed curls, and the smooth, dusky skin of her African-American lineage. But her eyes were a surprising aquamarine color. They twinkled now as she stood looking at her friend, one finger resting on her own face. Then she began walking slowly around Kana, studying her.

“You know I like your hair more all the time, don’t you?”

Kana had recently had her medium brown hair cut into a short cap that gave free reign to its tendency to curl naturally, and at Valentina’s suggestion, had let the beautician put a few golden highlights in it.

“Yeah, I have to admit, I feel like a new person. And I think I needed the lift it gives me. Thanks, Vallie, for talking me into it,” she said, grinning at her friend as they both turned to walk back into the building.

“Hey, what are friends for? You’d do the same for me. … And speaking of friends, I’m sure going to miss you, girl!”

“I’ll miss you too, Vallie. I wish you’d really pray about coming down. I know you want to spend most of the time with your family in Philadelphia, but you could spare a couple of weeks to come south, couldn’t you?”

“I’d like to say ‘yes,’ Kana, but with my sister’s wedding coming up that second week of July, and then all of the cleaning and getting things back in order after the other relatives leave, I just don’t know if I’ll feel good about leaving for any extended time. Mom tries to do too much most of the time, and I’d like to be sure that I’m taking the load off her for most of the summer.”

“Sure. I do understand. … I guess I am being a little selfish … but I’d like for you to get some rest and have some fun too.”

“Oh, I will have fun. You know my sister and I have always been close, and I’m going to enjoy every minute of planning her wedding and going through it with her. And then I’ll be able to spend time with my grandparents too, and I haven’t really had any time to be close to them for the last two years, with my staying here in Nashville to work on my master’s during the summers. So, actually, just being able to be at home instead of here working will be a treat.”

“Good. I’m glad. But if you do change your mind, you know Gram will welcome you with open arms.”

“Of course I know that, and you know how I feel about your Grandmother. I’d like to see her again too. … We’ll see what happens. I’m just going to play it by ear and not plan too far ahead. But we’ll be talking on the phone once in a while, so I’ll let you know if I can manage a trip down.”

“Okay.” Kana stepped into the doorway of her classroom. “Well, I guess we’d better get things straightened up for tomorrow. See you in the morning.”

“You bet,” Vallie replied and walked down the hall several feet to her own room.

The next morning at 11:55 Kana locked the door to her classroom and walked down the hall to Valentina’s room to hug her friend goodbye and give her the gift she had brought her. Valentina was just lifting her briefcase from her desk, along with a wrapped package, which she had intended taking to Kana’s room.

“Oh, you’re here!” she said, as she looked up to see Kana coming through the door. “I was on my way down to give you this,” she added, holding out the package.

Both girls laughed as Kana handed Valentina a gift bag containing her gift, and then they set to opening their presents like two eager children. They couldn’t help but laugh when they realized they had given each other exactly the same thing, a beautifully bound journal.

“Well, I want you to record everything interesting and beautiful and … uh … handsome and broad-shouldered … that goes on in Gatlinburg,” Valentina said, in defense of her gift.

“That’s exactly the reason for my gift to you!” Kana answered.

“This is great!” Valentina said. “Now I can hardly wait to get back and compare journals and catch up.”

“Whoa, girl! Let’s not get carried away. Let’s enjoy our vacation before we have to come back, okay?”

“Deal!” Valentina said, hugging Kana tightly. “You take care of yourself, you hear? And if it starts to feel like you’re going to fall in love with anybody while you’re there, you be sure and carry this journal every minute, so you won’t fail to record one feeling.”

“All right, but the same goes for you.”

They threw away the wrapping paper and headed out of the room and down the hallway.  As they separated on the parking lot, they hugged each other again. “You’ve got my home number in Philadelphia?” Valentina asked.

“Sure do, and you’re sure you’ve got Gram’s with you?”

“Positively. If I don’t hear from you first, I’ll give you a call next weekend, and tell you how the wedding plans are going.”

“Okay. Have fun,” Kana said as she slipped into her car, and in another minute she was backing out of her parking space. A sense of joy and expectation surged through her as she made her way to the interstate. She could hardly wait to start putting some miles behind her, but she knew she’d need to stop at a fast food place and have some lunch before she turned onto I-40. She had been looking forward to this trip for weeks, but somehow, today she felt that there was something even more exciting about it than she had planned — almost as if there were something unexpected and wonderful waiting for her in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

“Whatever it is, Lord, I’m ready!” she said, and slid her favorite praise and worship CD into the player.
~

Chapter 3

By 6:30 that evening, Kana was pulling into her grandmother’s driveway. She had taken time for lunch, but had stopped only once more to use the restroom and stretch her legs; she hadn’t wasted any time. Unfortunately, traffic had been especially heavy, due to a lot of repair work on the highway, so she hadn’t made nearly as good time as she had hoped. Gram opened her front door now, having been listening for the car ever since Kana had called from her cell phone to say she was just driving through Pigeon Forge and would be with her in no time.

Kana jumped out of her car and ran up the three steps to the porch. She grabbed her grandmother, hugging her fiercely and laughing. “Oh, Gram, it’s so good to be here … and to know I can stay a while. I’m glad Mom and Dad agreed to come up here for a visit this time instead of us going to Atlanta. Not that I have anything against Atlanta, you understand,” she added, grinning, “but it doesn’t have the Smoky Mountains … or this wonderful old house that has so many memories for me.”

“I know, dear. I feel the same way, and I’m sure going to enjoy visiting with you right here for a change. I think it’s been four years since you got to spend any time here in Gatlinburg. I hope you’ll still enjoy it as much as you used to.”

“I’m sure I will,” she said giving Gram another squeeze. “Now just let me get my luggage carried in, and we’ll do some catching up.” She took two cases out of her trunk and carried them into the hallway, then returned for a gift-wrapped package from her back seat. “This is for you,” she said grandly as she handed her grandmother the package.

“Thank you, dear, but having you here for two months is gift enough you know.”

“But this is something I made myself, just for you.”

“Oh, well, that’s different then,” Gram said. “I can’t wait to open it.”

They walked into the house together and automatically moved into the living room with its overstuffed, comfy furniture. They sat together on the sofa as Gram opened the gift. “Oh, Kana!” she said as she lifted out six hand crocheted doilies each with an intricate flower in the center. “And they’re exactly the right colors to match this room.” She looked up at Kana, her eyes a little misty. “I never dreamed back when you were so small and wanting to learn to crochet – and making a mess of almost everything you tried to make – that you would be doing work of this caliber, and decorating my home with your handiwork.” 

Her chuckle was contagious, and as Kana joined in, memories came flooding back to her from those younger days. “My stuff was pretty awful, wasn’t it?”

“But we had so much fun doing it together, and now we have those wonderful memories. And these are truly beautiful, Kana. I’m going to put them around the living room right now.” She put action to her words and began moving around the room, replacing table scarves with her new doilies, and even placing one of them on the back of her favorite chair.

“I’m glad you like them. I made a set for Vallie’s sister as a wedding gift too.”

“I guess they’re pretty excited up there in Philadelphia, getting ready for the wedding.”

“I think so. I know for sure Vallie is. She would have liked to come down to see you too, but she really felt she should be there to help as much as possible. Although I’m still hoping she can get away for a few days and spend some time with us.”

“That would be wonderful. Then she can fill us in on the wedding with a first-hand report.” Gram’s eyes started to twinkle, and she grinned at Kana. “Uh … I was wondering … is there any chance you’re getting close to thinking about a wedding of your own?”

“Now, Gram, you know I’d have told you if I were serious about anyone.”

“Well …I thought you would have … but I guess I was just hoping something had developed since the last time we’d had a chance for a long talk.”

Kana laughed. “You’re such a romantic, Gram. You really do believe in love at first sight, don’t you? I couldn’t have gotten serious about anyone in that short a time in any other way except that, you know.”

Gram shrugged her shoulders, smiling still. “Well, you know your grandpa and I didn’t have to think too long before we decided we were in love. It isn’t a bad thing. And, of course, I’ve told you about Maddison and Beth Holt and then Pastor Cameron McDaniels and Suzanne.” Kana nodded, and Gram continued. “It took both couples some time to get things worked out enough to admit they were meant for each other, but most of us who were with them a lot had it figured out a lot sooner,” she said, laughing.

“Well, I’m really anxious to meet Pastor McDaniels. You’ve told me so much about him, I almost feel as if I know him … and Suzanne too. I made such a quick trip last summer, just picking you up and heading for Atlanta, I didn’t even get to go to church with you at all.”

“Well, we’ll make up for it this time. Now, did you have supper or could you eat something?”

“You know good and well I can always eat, even when I’ve had supper, but no, I didn’t take time to stop for any meal but lunch.” She hopped up and started toward the kitchen. “I’ve actually been wondering if I should go on some kind of diet. I seem a little more plump than I did last summer.”

Grandma Nora stopped in her tracks and swung Kana around to face her, looking her over carefully as she did so. “Now you listen to me, young lady. You have a lovely shape. You’re five feet, seven inches tall, and if you were much thinner you’d just look skinny.” She looked her over once more. “No … your figure’s just generous enough to make you look like a woman should.”

“Generous huh? Now that’s a word I hadn’t thought of. It sure sounds a lot better than plump.”

“I don’t know where you get these ideas, Kana.” Gram pointed her finger in Kana’s face. “You leave well enough alone! A young man with any sense wants a woman who looks like a woman.”

Kana laughed and hugged her grandmother again. “Okay, Gram … to tell the truth, I don’t think I have what it takes to diet anyway. … So what are my choices tonight?”

Grandma Nora chuckled. “Well, I just couldn’t decide which of your favorites to make first, so I tried to get several of them done at once. There’s a big pasta salad in the refrigerator, stuffed green peppers just about ready to come out of the oven, key lime pie, and peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies. … How’s that for starters?

Kana couldn’t refrain from squeezing Gram’s shoulders again. “Gram, I love you so much. I wish you hadn’t worked so hard on my account, but I know you enjoy cooking, so I’m not going to feel guilty … I’m just going to indulge!” They laughed together and moved around the kitchen getting out plates and silverware and laying the food out on the table.

“Shall I take the peppers out of the oven?” Kana asked.

“Yes, if you would, dear. Do you want coffee?”

“Let’s have tea instead if that’s all right with you.”

“Sure. I’ll get the water started.”

They caught up on some of their news as they ate, and then shifted the conversation to what they would like to plan during Kana’s stay. “I hope it won’t be a problem for you, dear, but I feel obligated to attend a birthday dinner tomorrow night for a little girl in our congregation who’s very close to me. Actually her whole family is pretty special to me, and since she’s turning six, she feels like it’s a big thing for me to be there. They specifically asked that you’d come too, because they’d like to meet you, but if you feel like it’s an imposition, you don’t have to feel obligated.”

“Why, I’d be glad to go, Gram. If they’re important to you, I want to meet them, and as a teacher, I know how important those special occasions are to a child at that age. What’s her name?”

“Delly.”

“Delly?”

“MmHmm. Well actually it’s Delores. She was named after her father’s mother, but they’ve almost always called her Delly. She has coal black, curly hair, and the biggest blue eyes you’ve ever seen, and to be an only child, she has a surprisingly sweet, unselfish nature. I think you’ll fall in love with her.”

“I don’t doubt it. I feel that way about most of the ones that come through my room … even the troublemakers. … Or maybe I should say especially the troublemakers. Somehow it seems like those who are always causing trouble are the most in need of love, and my heart just goes out to them.”

“I know what you mean. I feel that way about several of the young people at church. This past year, Pastor McDaniels and Maddison Holt have been developing a whole new program for working with troubled teens, and some of the kids they’ve been working with would just break your heart.”

“Well, I”ll be glad to go to the party with you if you think they really want me to come.”

“I’m positive. I’ve been telling them about you, of course.”

Kana rolled her eyes and groaned.

“Well I have to talk about my only granddaughter, don’t I?”

“I guess so. Do you talk about your grandsons too?’

“Of course I do, but most of the people here know the boys, since they’re still young enough that they come with their parents to visit two or three times a year.”

“Well, just so you haven’t exaggerated about me.”

Grandma Nora snorted. “I don’t have to exaggerate. You’re such a wonderful young woman, the truth is all I need to tell.”

Kana laughed out loud. “Oh, Gram, you’re a case. I guess I might as well learn to live with it, and hope you at least haven’t told them any of the stupid things I did as a child.”

“Of course I haven’t.” Gram said. “I’m saving those to hold over your head in case I need some ammunition to convince you to do something you might not want to do.”

They both laughed at that.

“Will there be several people at the birthday dinner, do you think?”

“Well, Eve’s parents are in Ohio with their other daughter who’s having a baby this week, so I think the only other person invited besides us is Delly’s Uncle Lee. Well, his name’s really Lionel, but all of his friends and family call him Lee. … Now there’s a man you can help me pray for.”

“What’s the problem?”

“He just needs the Lord.”

“Oh, I see.”

Gram shook her head, a concerned look on her face. “And he’s such a kind and generous man too. It’s just a shame he can’t seem to connect with God.”

“But Delly’s parents know the Lord?”

“Yes, Darrin and his wife Eve have been Christians since before I met them, and Lee will come to church with them once in a while — especially if Delly’s in a program or something – but that’s as far as it goes. Darrin hasn’t confided in me completely, but he did tell me the problem centers around their dad and the hard life he dragged their mother through. It seems Lee feels that he can’t believe in a God who would have let one of His children live the way their mom had to live.”

“What a shame. … But at least if he comes to church some times, he must be a little bit open.”

“Actually, I think he’s more open than even he realizes. He’s become a real friend of Cameron’s, as well as having good relationships with several other members of the congregation. A lot of people in our church take their vehicles to the boys for servicing and repair – that’s the business they’re in. They have their own auto shop. … Anyway, several of the people from church seem to have a good relationship with Lee Butler, and I’m sure they pray for him. … I know I pray for him all the time. In fact Delly and I pray for him every time we’re together, because she’s a strong little believer, and she’s very concerned about her uncle because she loves him so much. So I feel sure it’s just a matter of time before Lee finally gives his heart to the Lord.”

“Well, you can count on me to pray too. They sound like a nice family, and I’m looking forward to meeting them.” She suddenly yawned, and automatically glanced at her watch. “Gram! It’s 10:30! Can you believe that?”

“We had a lot of catching up to do.”

“Well, since I’m going to be here for two months, I think I’ll call it a night and turn in for now, what about you?”

“Yes, that sounds good to me too. It has been a long, busy day for both of us.”

Kana stood and started carrying their dishes to the sink. “Let’s clean up tomorrow, huh?”

“Sounds good to me,” Gram said. “I’ll take care of turning off lights and checking doors, dear.”

Kana kissed her grandmother. “I sure love you, Gram. See you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, Sweetheart.”

~

Chapter 4

“Uncle Lee! Uncle Lee!” Delly came running into the living room, squealing his name, and leaped into his arms to be twirled around in their usual mode of greeting.

“How’s my favorite girl?” he asked, planting a big kiss on her cheek before putting her down.

“I’m great! It feels so good to finally be six!”

“I’m sure it does. I put your present on the coffee table.”

Delly looked behind her to the table, and her eyes grew enormous. Dwarfing the table itself was a huge gift, covered in what looked like a whole roll of wrapping paper. She looked at it for a moment and then back at her uncle, her eyes registering her excitement. “Can I open it now?’

“Now, Delly,” her father spoke up, “you know your mom wants you to wait and open all of your gifts after we eat.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot,” she said, disappointment very obvious in her face. She sighed, and then looked up at Lee again. “But I’m going to open yours first of all,” she said, reaching out and taking his hand. “Come and see my cake,” she added, starting to pull him toward the kitchen just as the doorbell rang.

“That will be Grandma Nora if I’m not mistaken,” Darrin said as he headed for the door.

“Oh, boy!” Delly said jumping up and down and following Darrin. She looked back at her uncle. “Just a minute, Uncle Lee, and we’ll take Gram Nora with us to see the cake.”

Lionel nodded and leaned against the back of a chair to wait.

“Come in, come in,” Darrin said. “Oh, you must be Kana,” he added reaching out to shake hands as soon as Kana stepped through the door. “I’m so glad you could come. We were anxious to meet you.”

“Thank you for the invitation. I love parties,” Kana replied. As they moved into the living room, Delly ran to meet her. “And I bet this is the birthday girl,” Kana said.

“Delly,” Grandma Nora said, “I’d like you to meet my granddaughter, Kana. She teaches second grade in Nashville.”

Delly’s eyes lit up, and she grinned at Kana. “I’m going to be in the first grade next year. That’s ‘cause I’m six today.” She stepped toward Kana and held out her hand. “Thank you for coming to my party.”

Kana shook her hand and grinned back. “Thank you for having me. I love birthday parties.” She handed Delly the gift she had been holding in her other hand. “I hope you’ll like this.”

“Oh, I will! I like all presents!”

Everyone laughed at that, and Grandma Nora leaned over to hug Delly and give her the gift she had brought. “Well, you deserve lots of presents, dear.”

“Mommy says I have to wait and open them after we eat, so I’ll put them over here close to Uncle Lee’s. Isn’t his present the biggest you’ve ever seen?”

Grandma Nora walked over to the coffee table and looked the present over carefully. “I’ll say it is! I wonder what it can be, Delly. Do you have any ideas?”

“We-e-l-l-l-l . . .” she looked over at her uncle, her eyes alight, and then back to Grandma Nora. “Well …I don’t know …but I know something I’ve been wanting that might be that big … something I’ve been wishing and wishing for.”

“Well, we’re just going to have to wait and see,” Darrin interrupted. “We need to make some more introductions,” he added turning to Lionel, who moved away from the chair and walked over to the two ladies.

“Well I already know this handsome young man,” Grandma Nora said, as she reached out and grabbed Lionel’s hand in a warm clasp.”

“How are you Grandma Nora?” he said, his broad, contagious smile spreading easily across his face. He then glanced at Kana and reached his hand out to her in turn. “I heard you introduced as Kana. That’s an unusual name. Very pretty.” He held her hand in a strong, gentle grip for a little longer than necessary, but neither of them seemed to notice.

“Thank you.”

At just that moment, Eve came into the room to greet their new guests.

She hugged Lee first. “Lee, you haven’t been coming often enough,” she said and shook her finger at him. “Let’s remedy that, Okay?”

“I promise, Evie,” he said, smiling at this perky, blond woman who had made his brother so happy.

She moved to Grandma Nora next and they hugged each other fervently. “I’m so glad you were able to make it Grandma,” she said.

“I wouldn’t have missed it, and I didn’t have to talk much to talk Kana into coming along too.”

They all laughed as Eve turned to take Kana’s hand in hers, smiling into her eyes. “I’m Eve, and I want you to know I appreciate your being willing to share your grandmother like this on the first day of your visit.”

“It’s very important to her to be sharing this with your family, and I’m going to enjoy it as much as she will. Thank you for inviting me.”

“Darrin and I have been wanting to meet you, and I hope we’ll have some time to really get acquainted this coming week.”

“I hope so too. It’s going to be great having two whole months here.”

Lionel was looking at her a little curiously. He was aware that she interested him more than the average young woman he’d met, but he didn’t know why. She was nice looking, but she wasn’t beautiful. Her eyes certainly held his attention though; they were large and gentle, but so very alive that they sparkled almost continuously. And her voice gave him a comfortable feeling.

Suddenly, he jerked his wondering thoughts to attention. He knew better than to let himself get interested in any woman!

“Delly, honey,” he addressed his niece now, “weren’t you going to show me your cake?”

“Oh, yeah, and Gram Nora too.” She looked up at Kana a little questioningly. “Would you like to see my cake too?”

“Indeed I would!”

Delly took her uncle’s hand in one of hers and reached the other one out to Kana. This wasn’t what Lionel had intended. His plan had been to get a few minutes away from this cute woman and get a handle on his thoughts. Now here he was in closer proximity to her than before.

“Come on Gram Nora,” Delly called as she led her two captives out of the room. “You’ll really like my cake. It’s chocolate, and you said chocolate was your favorite too.”

Eve spoke up then: “Why don’t we all go into the dining room? Everything’s ready to go onto the table.”

“Oh, goody!” Delly shouted, jumping up and down between her two escorts. “Then …as soon as everybody’s done …I can open my presents.”

As soon as the adults were finished with the main course, Eve asked Delly if she wanted to have her cake before or after she opened gifts.

“After!” she answered without hesitation.

“All right, we can all go on into the living room for the unwrapping; then I’ll bring the cake and coffee in when we’re done.”

Delly led the way, running immediately to the coffee table and her uncle’s gift. She was squirming with anticipation while she waited for all of the adults to find a seat. Finally, her mother said, “All right, honey. You may start with which ever one you want.”

Without a word, Delly looked at her uncle, grinning from ear to ear, and then turned back to his gift and began to tear away the paper. As she did so the roof of an extravagant doll’s house slowly appeared, followed immediately by the second story, with a balcony that ran along one whole side. “Oh it is one! It is one!” she squealed, as she hurriedly ripped off the remaining paper. “Thank you, Uncle Lee! Thank you! Thank you!”

When the paper was all off, she stood there staring at it with wide eyes and an open mouth.

“Wow!” Darrin said, and Eve leaned over and laid her hand on Lee’s arm.

“It’s the most beautiful doll’s house I’ve ever seen, Lee. Where did you find it?”

“When I was in Chattanooga last week, I stopped in at a specialty toy store just to see what all they had. As soon as I spotted it, I knew she’d love it.”

Delly was throwing herself into his arms now, showering him with kisses. “Thank you, Uncle Lee. I love you,” she added, looking right into his eyes.

“I love you too, sweetheart …very much.”

“And you’ll come and play with me and my new house, won’t you?”

Everyone laughed, but Lionel took it all in stride. “You bet,” he said.

“Good.” Delly slipped from his arms and returned to her presents. “Now Mommy and Daddy’s.” She carefully unwrapped the square box, and when she lifted the lid, she pulled out a brightly colored swimsuit.

“Oh boy!” she said, holding it up for everyone to see.

“Now that’s just part of your gift, dear,” Eve said. “Daddy had to put the other part of it in the back yard, and you can see it after you’ve opened your other gifts.”

Delly stood still with her mouth open and her eyes alight with anticipation.

“It’s a portable swimming pool,” her mother added. Delly’s eyes opened even wider.

“It’s big enough for you and three or four friends to play in at the same time.”

Delly ran to hug her mom and dad. “Thank you sooooo much!” she said, giving them kisses.

“Whose gift next?” Darrin asked.

“Gram Nora’s,” said Delly, picking up the beautiful large package. It was a dress and matching hat to wear to church, and Kana had given her a necklace with a cross made of blue stones to match the dress.

“Can I try my dress on now, Mommy?” she asked hopefully.

“Sure. It won’t take long. I’ll go into the bedroom with you and help you.”

Lionel rose at the same time. “And I’ll go take care of the coffee and cake while you’re doing that.”

“Oh thanks, Lee. I think you’ll be able to find everything you need,” Eve said, while being dragged along at a fast pace by her daughter.

The dress was a great success, as was the cake and ice cream, and Delly announced that it was the best birthday party she could ever have. She insisted that everyone go outside to inspect the swimming pool, and afterwards, while she began to get acquainted with her doll house family, the grown ups had more coffee and began to visit between themselves.

Kana had ended up sitting beside Lionel when they came back inside, and she began to talk to him about his work. “Gram tells me that you and Darrin have a very successful auto repair business. She knows several people who come to you for their work.”

“I guess you’d say it’s successful. I think any time you can work at something you enjoy and have it make you a living at the same time, you’re a success,” he answered, his easy smile spreading across his face and lighting up his eyes.

That smile was what most people liked best and remembered most about Lionel Butler. It always gave them the feeling that he was really sharing a part of himself with them every time they talked. It was so genuine that most people who knew him only slightly were convinced that he must be happy all the time. And he did make it a point to find and concentrate on the good in people and situations, so that his outlook was optimistic in most things. It was only once in a while, in the lonely hours when he remembered the past, or felt the burden of that empty place deep inside, that he let himself give place to sadness.

But today, he was enjoying himself. He loved his brother and sister-in-law, and Delly was the light of his life. Adding to that the fact that he was sitting beside a vibrant young woman who seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say, he was finding the party very much to his liking.

“Did you always enjoy working on cars?” she asked him now.

“Oh yeah …and not just cars. Just about anything that had working parts that could be taken apart and put back together.” He shook his head a little at his thoughts, laughing. “When I was a kid, I tore apart almost every toy I had just so I could practice putting it back together again.”

Kana laughed and leaned a little closer so they could talk without disrupting other conversations in the room. “Were you always able to put them back together right?”

“Believe it or not, yes. I’m not sure why. I just always seemed to be able to figure out what to do.”

“It sounds like it must be a gift from God,” Kana said, smiling at him. “Something you were born with …that God put in you for the specific purpose of doing that kind of work, because there’s no doubt it’s important work. Everyone who drives a vehicle of any kind needs a talented and reliable auto mechanic.”

Lionel felt as if a door had closed on this new friendship when she mentioned God as if she were well acquainted with Him. He had no place in his life for those beliefs now, and he wasn’t sure how to respond to her statement without offending her, which he didn’t want to do since she was Grandma Nora’s relative. But he realized suddenly that he wouldn’t have to respond, because she was asking him something else already.

“Has Darrin always enjoyed that kind of work as much as you?”

“Oh, Darrin always wanted to do the body work. And that’s mostly what he does now.” He paused, remembering for a minute. “Yeah, by the time I was in high school, I was repairing all the bikes in the neighborhood, and Darrin was cleaning off rust spots and giving them a new coat of paint.”

“Did I hear my name in that conversation?” Darrin asked from across the room.’

“You sure did,” Lionel said, laughing, “and it’s already too late to tell your side of things.”

Darrin got up and moved across the room, seating himself on a footstool close to Kana and his brother. “Don’t you believe everything he tells you, Kana,” he said now. “My big brother here used to keep all of us younger kids in the neighborhood spellbound with his stories. He told some real whoppers, so bear in mind that his imagination just might come into the picture when he’s talking about me.”

“He was sharing about how much you both enjoy your work and seemed almost to be born to it, and I was saying that I believe it must be a gift from the Lord for it to have just started working so naturally when you were that young.”

“I think you’re right. Lee has always had more talent for it than I do, but even just seemed to pick it up naturally. Of course, we went on to get more schooling and hands-on training before we opened our own business, but it seems like the ability to figure out the problems and fix them has always been with us.”

“Well speaking for myself, and for my best friend at home, who’s also a single girl, there are so many problems that can come up with cars, or any other vehicle, that having a mechanic you can really trust is a necessity. Gram was telling me that she knows a lot of the people who bring their work to you.”

“Yes, several of them go to church with us,” Darrin said. “We get a lot of people from the neighborhood where the shop is also, and I think word of mouth advertising has actually brought us the biggest amount of business over the years. Wouldn’t you say so, Lee?’

“Yeah, I agree. But I think it’s like that in almost any business. A satisfied customer is still the best advertising there is.”

Grandma Nora walked over to the little group now. “I hate to interrupt your conversation, but I think it’s about time we got on our way, don’t you, Kana?”

Kana glanced at her watch. “Goodness, it’s after 9:00. I had no idea.”

Delly sidled up to Grandma Nora. “Will Kana be coming to church with you tomorrow, Gram Nora?” she asked.

“She sure will. Would you like to sit with us?”

Delly turned around to look at Eve. “Can I Mommy?”

“Do you mean may I?”

Delly put her hand over her mouth a second and then spoke again. “I mean, may I, Mommy?”

“Yes, you may,” Eve answered, laughing at her daughter’s reaction.

“Goody,” she said, taking Grandma Nora’s hand and squeezing it. Kana rose, and so did Lionel and Darrin.

“It’s been a great party, Delly,” Kana said, softly touching the little girl’s curls.

Eve joined them now and said, “Let’s make some plans for later this week to have a long visit. As soon as you two have some of your plans figured out, give us a call, Okay?”

“Sounds good, Eve,” Gram said. “We’ll give you a call in a day or two.” She turned and started toward the door, followed by everyone else. At the door she hugged Delly once more. “See you all in the morning.”

“Not Uncle Lee, though,” Delly said, turning and looking at him. She got a hopeful gleam in her eyes. “Unless you come with us, Uncle Lee. Will you?”

“Not tomorrow, honey, but I’ll be there the next Sunday to hear you sing in the children’s choir, remember?”

“Oh yeah. Okay,” she said and turned back to Grandma Nora. “I’ll look for you, Gram Nora. If you get there first, save me a seat.”

“I’ll do that honey. Goodnight all. It’s been a lot of fun.”

“Goodnight,” they all chorused, and stood on the porch until Gram and Kana were in the car and backing out of the drive.

“Well, I’m off too,” Lionel said, putting his arm around Eve and giving her a gentle hug. “Thanks, Evie, for another great meal.”

“You know we’re always glad when you can come, Lee. You need to do it more often.”

Lee stooped down and picked up Delly, hugging her tight. “You know, I believe you’ve grown bigger since you turned six,” he said, grinning at her.

“Oh, Uncle Lee, I have not. …But I am more ma …ma …what’s the word, Daddy?”

“I think you’re trying to say mature.

“Yeah, that’s it. I’m more mature!” she said looking at Lee with just a little pride showing.

“Before long, you’re going to be a teenager, going out with boys, and then you won’t have time for me.”

“Oh, yes I will! I’ll always have time for you. Besides, you don’t have any little girls or boys of your own, and you need me,” she said, grinning at him.

Lionel grinned back, but inside he felt a sharp pain and that terrible sense of emptiness that was starting to plague him more and more all the time now. He put Delly down, and reached out and patted Darrin on the shoulder. “See you Monday morning, Dare. You guys have a good day tomorrow.”

“You too, Lee,” his brother said, walking part way to his car with him. “Goodnight.”

Delly ran back into the house, but Darrin stood and watched his brother drive away. Then, with a sigh, he looked up at the stars and began to pray. “Please, Lord, help him find the love he needs … in You … and in a wonderful, Godly woman who’ll give him a family of his own. You know how good he’s always been to me … and to all of us. In fact, You know he’s always generous and good to everybody he knows … and even people he doesn’t know. Please … don’t let him have to spend the rest of his life alone. Help him open his heart to You, Lord. His heart’s already so tender, it surely won’t take much. Just help him understand Your love, Father.”

He sighed again. “Thank You, Lord. I trust You with my brother.” He turned then, and walked back into the house, confident in his heart that God had a good plan for Lee and that He was well able to carry it out.
~

Chapter Five

The next morning at church, Kana enjoyed getting reacquainted with the church members she had met a few years before, as well as meeting Pastor McDaniels and his wife Suzanne. It was pretty easy to tell they had been married only about a year, since they could still hardly keep their eyes off each other. Kana thought it was delightful.

She also finally got to meet Maddison and Beth Holt. Gram had told her all about their courtship and marriage as well, and seeing how in love they were with each other was food for her romantic heart.

Cameron and Suzanne invited Gram and Kana to join them for lunch with Maddison and Beth, so they got even better acquainted over the meal.

“So you two started your Christian magazine right after Suzanne got married?” Kana asked the girls.

“That’s right,” Beth answered. “And it’s been a challenge, but a real blessing.”

“We’ve been able to do stories about some of the most interesting people in God’s work,” Suzanne added, and then everybody laughed.

Kana looked a little confused at the laughter, but her grandmother helped clear things up. “You see, dear, one of the first people Suzanne interviewed was Cameron. She did an article about his ten years of missionary work and then about how God led him here to Prince of Peace Church.”

“Oh, I see.”

“But that’s not all,” Beth said. “That series had four different articles, so they had to spend a lot of time together talking about personal stuff, and that’s how they fell in love.

“It sure was!” Cameron said, leaning over and kissing his wife on the cheek. “And I‘ve fallen more in love with her every day since then.”

“But that’s not all either,” Maddison added. “Suzanne wasn’t sure she wanted to be in love, and she was keeping Cameron at arm’s length. But then her story on Cameron led her to make a trip to Honduras, where she could interview some of the pastors of the churches Cameron had started there. While there, she was kidnapped, along with two ministry team members, by a gang who wanted the drugs they carried on the medical van they were driving to a nearby village.”

“Wow!” Kana’s eyes grew wide. “This is better than a romance novel.”

Everyone laughed at that, and Maddison continued the story. “Cameron and I went down to try to do … well, something … anything we might be able to do to help find her. And by the time we were all reunited, Suzanne had finally seen the light about her feelings for Cameron. In fact, by that time, she and Cameron had both become so sure how they felt about teach other you couldn’t have pried them apart ever again.”

“Oh, how delightful! You should print that story in the magazine. I bet it would be a great hit.”

Beth and Suzanne looked at each other. “I never even thought of that,” Beth said. “Neither did I,” Suzanne said, “but I’m not sure I want something so personal in print just yet. Maybe later.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Kana said. “It’s a great love story for someone else to read, but if it had all happened to me personally, I probably wouldn’t be too sure I wanted it told to just everybody either.”

“But, I’ve been thinking about something else since we’ve been sitting here,” Suzanne said, looking at Kana. “We’ve been talking about doing something different with our children’s section in the magazine, or maybe even expanding to a small children’s issue that’s totally separate, and I was just thinking … with all of your experience with children …” Suzanne stopped talking and glanced at Beth.

“Yes! That’s a great idea, Suz.” She looked at Kana, her eyes alight. “Would you have some time to come in and give us your opinion about a few things, and maybe even do some brainstorming with us about what we need to include in a children’s issue?”

Kana’s face registered her surprise, which quickly changed to delight. “Why, I’d be glad to, if you think I can really make any worthwhile contributions.”

“You just show up,” Suzanne said, laughing. “We’ll get everything out of you that we need, and I’m sure it’ll be worthwhile.”

“Okay … when do you want me?”

“Let’s see,” Beth said, thinking. “We both have interviews to do tomorrow. What about Tuesday morning, Suzanne?”

“Cade said the proofs for the article on the century-old churches in Tennessee would be ready to go over by Tuesday, so I think one of us had better leave the morning open to do that. We’re running a little close on time for that article.” She glanced back to Kana and explained. “Cade’s our photographer.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Beth said. “ Well let’s say Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. Is one of those times better for you, Kana?”

Kana looked at her grandmother. “Ii don’t think we have any plans set in stone, do we Gram?”

“No, dear. Anytime you girls can make it happen is fine.”

“Good,” Kana said, turning back to the girls, “Let’s say Tuesday afternoon.”

“That’s great,” Suzanne said. “Just come on down to the office about 2:00. Grandma Nora knows how to get there.”

“This is great,” Beth said. “I feel just a little bad taking advantage of you while you’re on vacation, but not bad enough to let you off the hook.”

They all laughed at that, and since it was time to order dessert, they did so, and the conversation turned to other things. When it came to light that Kana was a miniature golf enthusiast, both couples decided they needed to plan an evening or two when they could take Kana for a golf game.

After leaving the restaurant, Kana and her grandmother passed the remainder of the afternoon just relaxing and talking until time for the evening service. Kana enjoyed the services at Prince of Peace Church, and she was very enthusiastic about Cameron’s sermons. She looked forward to being a part of the church activities for the next two months.

As it turned out, she found herself in the position the very next Sunday of having to decide just how much a part of the church activities she wanted to have. Cameron announced at the beginning of the service that the children’s day camp, which ran the last two weeks of June, was facing a dilemma. The teacher for the first grade children had been called away to care for a relative in another state, and the church was a little desperate to find a good teacher before camp started in one week.

When she heard the announcement, Kana felt a quickening in her heart that she should volunteer to help. However, she told herself that if she did that, she wouldn’t have nearly enough time with Gram, and besides, she didn’t want to take the place of someone who was actually a member of this congregation who might be able to do the work. So she said nothing to her grandmother at that time, and just settled back to enjoy the service.

She glanced around briefly, to see who all was there that she knew, and her eyes met Lee Butler’s. She felt surprise at first, but then instantly remembered that he had promised Delly to be there to hear her sing. She smiled at him, and he returned the smile, with a slight nod to her. He turned away immediately and lowered his eyes to the bulletin he was holding in his hand. By that time the worship had started, and Kana concentrated on praising the Lord and receiving from Him as the service progressed.

The children’s choir came onto the platform to sing just before the sermon. They did three songs, and Kana was surprised at how really good they were. Valentina would love to hear them, she thought. Her best friend also had a degree in music, and she did a great deal of work with children in music at her home church. She decided she’d have to call her that afternoon and tell her about this group.

After the service, everyone tended to hang around and visit. There were a number of other visitors, relatives of the other children in the choir, and no one seemed in a hurry to leave. Delly grabbed her uncle’s hand as soon as they started down the aisle, and by the time they were to the back of the church, Kana and Gram had just finished speaking to Cameron. They were still standing by him as the Butlers approached, and Cameron stepped toward them, extending his hand to Lee.

“Good to see you here again, Lee,” he said, shaking hands. “That niece of yours has quite a voice, doesn’t she?”

Lee glanced down at Delly and winked at her as he replied. “I know I’m proud of her.”

“Well, be sure and come back week after next. They’re going to sing then too. Of course,” he grinned broadly now and winked at Delly himself. “You’re always welcome to come even when Delly’s not singing anything special.”

“Thank you,” was Lee’s only answer.

“As a matter of fact, I’m probably going to come over and talk to you boys sometime tomorrow about making an appointment with you.”

“Your car giving you trouble?”

“No, but the church is about to purchase a new bus. The one we use now is getting pretty old, and we’re hoping to save it for local trips only, and use the newer one for longer journeys. We’re looking pretty seriously at one particular bus, and I’d like to have one of you check it over thoroughly and tell me what you think about its condition.”

“Sure, drop in anytime tomorrow … or just give us a call if you don’t have time to come over,” Lee said. By that time Darrin had joined them and overheard most of the conversation. “Naw, Cameron doesn’t want to call,” he said grinning at his pastor. “He’d rather come by so he can sit and have a cup of coffee and a donut with us.”

“You better believe it. I need a break once in a while, after all.”

“Well, to tell you the truth, so do we, so be sure and come by,” Darrin said, shaking his hand and moving on so that others could talk with the pastor for a few minutes.

Grandma Nora had been talking to Delly, telling her what a good job the choir had done. She looked up now to the adults of the family. “Good morning. How are the rest of the Butlers this morning?”

Kana was standing a little apart, closer to the door, but she smiled at them also. Lionel smiled at her, meeting her eyes again. His eyes were a deep green, like pine trees in a forest. When he looked at her now, they were intense, almost as if he were looking deeply into her to try to find something.

“We’re great,” Eve said, hugging Gram. “And we’re on our way to the pancake house for lunch and then to play miniature golf. Why don’t you and Kana come with us?”

Kana stepped up to them then. “Did somebody say miniature golf? I love it, but I’ve been here over a week, and I haven’t played one game yet.” She looked at her grandmother. “Shall we go, Gram?”

“Please, please!” said Delly, squeezing Gram’s hand.

She answered, “Well I certainly can’t disappoint two of my favorite people, so, yes, I think we should go.”

“Great,” Darrin said. “But only of it’s my treat for everybody. Lee treated us all last time, and it’s my turn.”

“Oh, that isn’t necessary,” Kana spoke up instantly.

“That’s the only way I’ll do it,” Darrin said, holding up his hand to ward off any more argument.

“You might as well give in, Kana,” Lee said. “The Butler boys are known for their stubbornness. We’ll be here all day, if you don’t give in at least this once.”

Kana looked helplessly at Gram, who shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not arguing,” she said, and they started out the door.

Lunch was a jovial affair, with Delly managing to get a taste from almost everyone’s plate, and the weather turned out to be perfect for miniature golf. As they went around the course, they all laughed and carried on like children, Darrin and Lee teasing Eve and Gram about their style.

But everyone was impressed with Kana’s success. “You’re really good at this,” Lee said, as he reached in and retrieved the ball after her third hole-in-one during their first game.

“I’ve had a lot – and I mean a lot  of practice,” Kana answered. “It’s absolutely my favorite game, and I play every time I get a chance. But you’re really good yourself, so you must play often too.”

Lionel nodded his head. “Pretty often. Every once in a while, Delly stays overnight so Darrin and Eve can have a night out without worrying about being home early, and the two of us often do miniature golf and a movie.”

“She really loves you.”

Lionel looked back now, to where Delly and Gram were finishing up on the previous hole, and his eyes softened perceptibly. “Yeah,” he said, looking back at Kana and grinning. “The feeling’s very mutual.”

“I can tell. I’m so glad for her. Being loved so much by so many people is the best thing that a child can have as she grows up.” Her face took on a sad look momentarily. “I can tell you that I see kids every year who have no love at all in their life, and it just breaks my heart. … And so many of them come from broken homes.”

Lionel immediately felt the sadness that seemed to come back to him when he remembered his own childhood. He didn’t want to remember now. He wanted to enjoy this cute woman’s company, so he needed to change the subject somehow.

“How long have you taught?” he asked her now, as they prepared to begin the last hole.

“Six years.”

“All those years in Nashville?”

“Mmhmm. I went ahead and did all the work for my master’s degree before I took my first job, so that I wouldn’t have that work load my first few years of teaching. Then the very next year I took a third grade position with the school I’m at now, although I preferred second. After two years, the second grade position came open, so I had first chance at it, and I’ve loved it.”

“Do you ever feel like you’re missing something not being married with kids of your own?”

“Not yet, but I know I want a family of my own some day.” She laughed and looked back at her grandmother. “And Gram makes no bones about the fact that she’s anxious for great-grandchildren.”

Lionel looked back at her again too. “I can believe that. She really loves kids and teenagers. And from what Darrin tells me, the church depends on her a lot in that area.”

“I think they do, and that makes her very happy. And it makes me happy for her, because she’ll always feel needed and fulfilled, no matter how old she is.”

“She’s been a wonderful friend to my brother’s family, that’s for sure. I don’t think they have enough words to tell just how much she means to them.”

“Thank you for telling me that, Lee,” Kana said, smiling into his eyes now.

With that smile, something warm touched him, penetrating his whole being so deeply that he felt surprise at the impact of it. Their eyes locked and held for some time, neither of them moving until Delly came running up to tell them Gram had made a hole in one just like Kana.

As she refocused on Delly and then Gram, Kana tried to settle the fluttering feeling that had come over her while Lee’s eyes had held hers. She felt almost as if some kind of current had passed between the two of them. It was something she didn’t remember ever experiencing with other men she knew. She shook herself a little to dispel that feeling. After all, Lee wasn’t a Christian; she couldn’t let herself feel anything for him other than the mildest friendship.

As the rest of the family finished the last hole, they all began to walk back to the entrance and the car. Suddenly Delly realized she had forgotten her club. “I’ll run back and get it,” Kana said, and turned and started trotting off before Lee could voice the words to say that he would do it instead.

So he turned to the rest of the family saying, “You all go on to the car, and I’ll wait for Kana.”

As they walked on, he turned back and began to walk slowly to where she was just picking up the golf club from the ground. Just as he came within a couple feet of her, she turned to take a step and her foot caught on the edge of the wooden structure surrounding the green for that hole. Suddenly, she was falling, and in a split second, Lionel jumped over the green and caught her in his arms.

As his arms came around her, Kana automatically reached up and grasped his shoulder with her free hand, and although the whole event took only a moment, it felt to both of them as if time had been suspended. Slowly, Lee lifted her into an upright position, shifting his hands to her shoulders, but not letting go of her. “Are you all right?” he asked, looking deeply into her eyes once more.

Kana, a little shaky from the fall, still held onto his shoulder, and as she looked into his eyes, she felt slightly mesmerized and couldn’t answer for a minute.

“Kana?” he asked gently.

“Oh … yes … yes, I’m all right,” she answered finally, removing her hand from his shoulder and brushing her hair off her forehead slightly. She took a deep breath. “Thank you for catching me. I could feel that my leg was twisting as I fell, and I think I would have really injured it if you hadn’t been so quick.”

Lionel was finally able to slide his hands from her shoulders as he answered, “Always glad to rescue a damsel in distress.” He spoke lightly and bent down to pick up all three golf clubs, since they had slipped from both of their hands in trying to avoid the accident. He then took Kana’s hand and turned to go back to the entrance. “Can you walk all right, then?”

“Yes,” Kana answered, walking beside him. “My leg doesn’t even hurt.”

“Good. I’m hoping we can play another game or two some time soon then.”

Kana just smiled slightly, but said nothing. How could she agree to arrangements for the two of them to play golf together? She had made a commitment to the Lord that she would never date a man who had made no commitment to Him, and Lee was definitely that. But at the same time, she didn’t know how she could bluntly turn him down after he had been such a help to her just now. She hoped that by just smiling she could defer any explanation until another time … after she’d had time to think about how to say it in a way that wouldn’t hurt him.

She shook her head a little, trying to clear her thoughts, glad that Lee wasn’t looking at her at the moment. She had never had to deal with this before. She had never thought it would bother her to have to turn down dates with men who weren’t Christians. She prayed silently for the Lord to help her understand what was really going on.

As they approached the car, she realized that her hand was still in Lee’s. She slipped it out of his, saying, “I’ll go on to the car while you return the clubs.”

He looked at her for a moment and then answered, “Sure … go ahead.”

The rest of their group seemed to be looking in the opposite direction, so hopefully, they hadn’t seen the two of them holding hands. She shook her head again. How had that happened, anyway? “Lord, You and I need to talk,” she prayed very quietly just before joining the others.

Gram spotted her first, and then Delly, and in another minute everybody was talking at once about going for ice cream before they returned home, so Kana was able to avoid any feelings of awkwardness after that, although she was more quiet than usual for the rest of the afternoon. No one knew her well enough to notice anything unusual except Gram, and she chalked it up to Kana’s just being tired.

But that night, as Kana lay in bed, she relived and examined the feelings she had experienced that afternoon. They concerned her. She hadn’t had a chance to call Valentina that afternoon as she’d planned, and by the time she and Gram had finished supper, Kana wasn’t sure she was ready to talk to her best friend about what was going on. Lying there, trying to decide if she would call her tomorrow, Kana remembered the journal and got back up to take it from her suitcase, along with a pen, to try to record at least some of what she was feeling. Maybe it would help her get her thoughts in order.

She entered the basic facts about her trip on one page, and then went on to write a little about the birthday dinner and some details about Delly. She was such a lovable child, she couldn’t resist saying several things about her. She then described the children’s choir in some detail, knowing Valentina would enjoy that.

She had recorded meeting Lee at the dinner, of course, but said nothing else about him on that page. Now she was ready to write about the afternoon. … She just couldn’t seem to get the pen to move across the paper. What would be the right words? … She leaned back against the headboard of the bed and sighed deeply. Well … she was attracted to Lionel Butler … she had to admit that at least to herself. But somehow, if she didn’t put it into writing, maybe it would be easier to make that attraction go away.

She laid the pen on her nightstand, closed the journal, put it beside the pen, and turned out the light. She’d forget about it until tomorrow. Maybe she would feel differently by then anyway.

As Lionel lay on his bed that night, he couldn’t seem to get his mind off what had happened that afternoon with Kana either. He hadn’t had any feelings like that about a woman in a long time. … Not since he used to let himself date frequently. But he didn’t date much at all anymore. Not that he didn’t appreciate women and how they made him feel, but he had determined years ago to keep those feelings under strict discipline.

He didn’t believe in sleeping around with women, no matter how well he knew them. … Another result of his mother’s prayers maybe … those prayers he didn’t believe in. But his concern that he was likely to have inherited a good many of his father’s bad character traits made him doubt that he would be a good husband and father. And he didn’t believe it was right to expect a woman to give herself to him physically if he wasn’t prepared to give her the love and security that should go with that kind of relationship. So he dated only rarely, and then never the same woman twice in a row. And he just hadn’t let himself feel much of anything with any of them for the last several years.

Now this cute, exuberant, challenging woman … that he’d known less than two weeks … was kindling feelings that had lain dormant all this time … and she was doing it with just a generous smile or the flash of those big chocolate eyes. Of course, her voice was soothing to listen to, and her laughter was musical. He let out a sigh. He just liked almost everything about her. … No … he liked everything about her.

But she was a Christian … and a devout one. But then maybe that was part of what made her a woman who had so many good qualities. He shook his head and sighed again, turning over and thumping his pillow. No … he’d be asking for a lot of problems if he let himself really care deeply for Kana Wallace. … The smart thing to do was to just stay away from her. … That thought saddened him.

~

Chapter Six

By the next afternoon, Kana realized she had been silly to consider not calling Valentina just because she wasn’t sure what to say about Lee. After all, what was there to say anyway, and she knew her friend would want to hear about the children’s choir. So she finally made the call, and they had a wonderful visit by phone, with Vallie filling her in on added details of the wedding preparations.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Kana said now. “I want you to be praying over the next couple of days that the Lord will show me whether to volunteer to help with the children’s camp that’s coming up in about a week. Their first grade teacher has had to back out, and they need somebody to take her place. I haven’t said anything yet, because I didn’t want to interfere with someone who’s a member of the church being able to do it, but Gram said this morning that she doesn’t think there’s anyone available during the summer who’s skilled enough to do all that the job requires.”

“Would it interfere too much with your time with your grandmother?”

“No, I don’t think so. Gram had forgotten to tell me, but she had volunteered to do refreshments for the camp on several of the days, which means she’d be at the church those days anyway. And I’d only be tied up from 9:00 to 4:00 each day for the ten days. Actually, I think Gram would kind of like for me to do it.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to pray, but you know what we always go back to when we have to make an important decision …“

“Yeah … our gut feeling.”

“Right. … So … what’s yours?”

“Well … I’ll have to admit that I did feel a little excited about the idea of taking the position when Pastor McDaniels first mentioned it.”

“And you haven’t thought of any reasons not to except possibly keeping someone else from having the chance to do it?”

“Right.”

“Well … I’d say you probably already have your answer.”

“You’re probably right, but go ahead and pray with me about it for another day or two anyway.”

“Now, you know, if it starts in about a week, you’re going to need several days to get prepared.”

“Yeah I guess that really doesn’t allow for too much more deciding time, does it?”

Vallie laughed her own special bubbly laugh, and Kana joined in. Things always seemed brighter and clearer when she talked them over with Vallie. And she knew Vallie felt the same way. She wished … no … there was no need to talk about Lee Butler.

“Kana … you’re awfully quiet all of a sudden. Is something wrong?”

“No, of course not, silly.”

There was a pause on the other end. “Uh … have you found any good looking guys who have taken your breath away yet?”

Kana’s heart doubled its beat, and she took a deep breath, but she said nothing.

After another pause, Vallie spoke again, the teasing note still in her voice. “Kana … you have, haven’t you! You’re holding out on me, girl! Who is he?”

Kana couldn’t help but smile at her friend’s enthusiasm. “No, Vallie, there’s no one right now who’s a likely prospect.”

“Come on, Kana, this is your closest friend you’re talking to here. I know you. Give.”

Kana sighed deeply, and finally spoke again. “Well … to tell you the truth, Vallie … I met a man who’s really nice and pretty interesting … but . . .”

“Yes … but?”

“Well … Oh, Vallie, I’d never have thought in a thousand years that I’d be saying this . . .”

“Well say it, girl!”

“I feel really attracted to this man whose the brother of one of the men in Gram’s church. … As a matter of fact, he’s Delly’s uncle … but …

“Kana! … he’s not married, is he?”

Kana laughed out loud. “You goose! Of course he’s not married! But there is a problem … an insurmountable one.”

“I’m listening, hon.”

“Oh, Vallie … he’s not a Christian.”

“O-o-o-h-h-h …” They both sighed before Vallie continued. “Who would have ever thought …”

“My words exactly. … Well, needless to say, I just need to forget him. It’s just such a shame. He’s intelligent, caring, a really giving person, but he just hasn’t been able to commit himself to the Lord. Gram says it has something to do with his mother being a Christian and having to live such a horrible life because of her unsaved husband. He feels like he doesn’t want a God like that or something. I don’t know any details, because he doesn’t talk about it. “He comes to church periodically when Delly sings or takes part in the service in some way. He really loves that little girl. But that’s as far as he goes.”

“Hmmmm. … You think maybe you could influence him in the right direction while you’re there?”

“Oh there are plenty of great Christians who have influence in his life. He and his brother own an auto repair business, and most of the people in Gram’s church take the Butlers their business. They all respect Lee and are nice to him, and he feels the same about them, but it hasn’t changed his mind about his relationship with God.”

“Well, dear, let’s pray before we hang up. I don’t want you hurt or unhappy while you’re down there, and neither does the Lord, so let’s trust Him to work everything out for you.”

“Thanks, Vallie. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, you know?”

“Same here. Let’s pray.”

By the time they had prayed for each other thoroughly and hung up, Kana felt a great release from the weight she had been experiencing ever since the previous afternoon. She looked at the rest of the summer through brighter eyes. After all, the Lord had always guided her and kept her in her personal relationships, and He wasn’t about to stop now. Moreover, by the time the prayer was over, she felt definitely that she should call Pastor McDaniels and offer to help with the camp. So she did.

“Kana, that’s wonderful news! And you don’t have to worry about keeping anyone else from doing it. The only other two people from the congregation who would have been at all experienced in that kind of thing and might have been able to help will be gone on vacation themselves the whole time. So you are, without question, an answer to prayer. When can you come in and look at the materials?”

“Most any time that’s convenient for you, I’d say.”

“Great. Can we try for later this afternoon then? About 4:00?”

“Sure, that’s fine. Should I come to your office?”

“Please.”

“Okay, I’ll be there.”

“Thanks again, Kana. I’ll call the elder who’s in charge of the camp right now and tell him his prayers have been answered.”

So with a light heart, Kana went to the church office and spent about an hour with Cameron and Mr. Howard, the camp director. They assured her that she could meet all their needs for the first grade class and gave her a schedule of the camp, including the plans for all of the staff to meet on that Friday to get acquainted and take care of any last minute preparations.

When she went to the Friday meeting, she was welcomed enthusiastically by the rest of the staff, and she felt as if she had been a part of them from the beginning. It was a productive meeting, and everyone prepared to leave feeling eager for Monday morning. Most of the staff had already drifted away by the time Kana came out of the room, because she had stayed to double-check some of her materials. As she walked into the hallway, she almost ran into Lionel coming down the hall, dangling a set of keys from his fingers.

“Hi, Kana. I bet I know what you’re doing here. Delly’s been excited for the last three days since she found out you’re going to be her teacher for the camp.”

Kana laughed lightly. “Well, that’s encouraging. I hope I do as good a job as the lady who was supposed to be her teacher.”

Lionel’s eyes plunged right to the depths of her own, engaging them completely without any effort, and he smiled that easy, captivating smile as he answered. “I don’t think there’s any possibility of your doing anything other than a perfect job with those children.”

She wasn’t sure what she could say to that, and thankfully, she didn’t have to answer because just then Cameron came down the hall and spoke. “Lee, you’re finished with the bus, I guess?”

“Yep. Just brought it back,” he said, handing the keys to Cameron. “It’s everything they told you it was. Excellent condition. I don’t think you’ll go wrong buying it.”

“That’s great news! With the camp coming up, we’ll need the one we have now for a couple of local trips with the kids, while the senior citizens take a two-day trip in the new one. I want them to use the new one since they’re going out of state, so we’re getting this all worked out just in time.”

“Do you want anything done to the current one before camp?”

“It hasn’t been very long since we had some work done on it, so I think we’re all right for now. But I’ll check with Jim, the driver, and see if he thinks we need to have it checked again, and call you. I guess you need a ride back to the shop, don’t you?”

“It would be easier than walking that far,” Lee said, grinning again.

“I’ll take you myself. Hilary’s waiting on her daughter to come and get her, so I’ll just tell her where I’ll be. Come on in the office a minute, and we’ll leave right away. Oh, by the way, Kana, you left a packet of materials in my office earlier too.”

Kana laughed, looking at her arms full of materials. “Well, as you can see, I hadn’t really noticed. I”ll take this stuff to the car and come back in for it.”

“Here, I’ll take that to the car for you,” Lee offered, as he reached out and took the materials from her.

“Thank you, Lee. It’s the light green Camry parked straight in front of the door, and while you do that I’ll go get what I left in the office.”

By the time Kana had stepped into the office, she realized that Cameron had just had a problem come up. He was on the phone, and Hilary whispered to Kana that it was a church member Cameron had been counseling. Kana could tell by what little she heard that Cameron felt he should take the call and not put it off. He covered the receiver with his hand and looked at Kana. “Would you have time to give Lee a ride back to the shop as you go, Kana?”

“Of course. That’s no problem. I’ll tell him you’re tied up on an urgent call.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Kana nodded. “I’ll see you Sunday. Have a good weekend, Hilary.”

“You too, Kana. I’m glad you’re going to be part of the team for the camp.”

“Me too. See ya.”

As she walked down the hall to the door, Lee was coming back in. “I’m sorry, Lee,” she said, “but Cameron just got an urgent call that he feels he has to take. Would it be all right if I give you a ride back?”

“Sure, if you have the time. If not, I can wait for Cameron.”

“I have time, and he may be quite a while from the way it sounded.”

“Then I’d be grateful for the ride. I do have a customer who wants to pick up his truck by 6:00, and it isn’t quite done yet.”

Lionel held the car door for Kana and took the rest of her papers and put them on the back seat before going around to the passenger side. As Kana backed out of the parking lot, she said, “I guess you’ll have to give me directions though.”

“Sure. Just take a right turn from here. It’ll be a couple of miles before we’re back into town where we turn again.”

“It’ll be interesting to see where your business is. Eve went shopping with Gram and me the other day, and she was telling us a little more about your very early years when it was a little bit of a struggle.”

“Yeah, it was for about three years, but then we began to move forward rapidly enough that we were able to build the building where we are now, and that put us in a position to take on a lot more work.”

“So do you live close by too?”

“My apartment’s about eight blocks away actually. When the weather’s good, I like to walk to work.”

“How many days a week are you open?”

“The five weekdays, and then Saturday mornings. Most auto repair places don’t open on weekends at all, but we realized that so many people end up needing help on those days too that we never could reconcile taking the whole weekend off on a regular basis. Sometimes we do, or if we don’t have anything really urgent, we just take turns going in on Saturday, but at least people know there’s something available if they really need us. And then too, we both keep a cell phone in case of real emergencies at any time. … Take a left turn at the next light, then go on to the next light and turn left again. We’re right on the corner.”

Kana could feel Lee’s eyes on her as she drove. His intense interest was a little disconcerting. But even more disconcerting was the little shiver of excitement that coursed through her when she glanced at him and met the strength of his gaze head on.

Just when she felt she could bear his silent perusal no longer, he spoke quietly. “This Tennessee sun has sprinkled a few freckles across your nose, do you know that?”

“Don’t remind me,” Kana said with a slight grimace.

Lionel grinned. “You don’t like them?”

“Not at all. I guess I’ll have to get out the bottle of foundation makeup. I don’t usually bother with much, but I guess it’s time.”

“Please don’t do that,” Lionel said before he could hold the words in.

Kana had pulled to a stop in the parking lot outside his building by this time and she glanced questioningly at him.

“I mean …I don’t think you should cover them up … I like them.” His gaze shifted to caress her hair a moment. “They go with the look of sunlight in your hair.”

Kana felt that little shiver again. My goodness, this auto repairman was almost a poet. Nobody had ever talked about sunlight in her hair before. She just looked at him with her mouth open a moment.

“Well … I’ll think about it,” was all she could say.

“Do that,” he answered as he moved to get out. “Thank you for the lift,” he added, closing the door.

“No trouble,” she said through the open window.

The next thing she knew, Lee was leaning back inside the window. “By the way, I really enjoyed our golf game Sunday.” He had told himself he wasn’t going to do this, but he just couldn’t seem to stop himself.

“Me too.”

“Well, I wondered if you’d like to go again this weekend.”

Kana opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out for a moment. Finally, she did speak. “You mean … just the two of us?”

Lionel shrugged his shoulders a little. “Yes, that’s what I had in mind. Would you like to?” He sensed that she was hesitant, so didn’t want to push.

“Well, to tell you the truth, Lee … I can’t.”

“Oh … well … maybe another time,” he said and started to pull back out of the window.

You have to tell him, Kana, she charged herself. Tell him now before this goes any farther. She looked at him again just as he was removing his hands from the car door. “Wait, Lee.”

He stuck his head back inside.

“Do you think you could get back inside for just a minute. There’s something I need to explain.”

Lionel opened the door and sat back down beside Kana, looking at her curiously.

“You see … well … I hope I don’t offend you by what I need to tell you, but I don’t have any choice but to just say it as simply as I can. As you know, I’m a Christian.”

He nodded.

“Well, I made a commitment to the Lord years ago that I would never date a man who wasn’t a Christian.”

His eyes grew a little wider. But he focused on her intently.

“You see, the Word of God says very clearly that Christians are never to marry unbelievers. And while I know that going out on one date … or even two or three … doesn’t necessarily mean that two people will marry each other, I also know that when a man and woman begin to spend time like that together … privately … that it could lead pretty quickly to something more serious … even permanent. And I believe the Lord showed me that the best defense against that happening – and then one or both people getting hurt very deeply – is to avoid starting that kind of relationship, even on a small scale.”

Lionel was quiet for a moment, still looking at her. The way his eyes could look so deeply into her was almost intoxicating. Kana couldn’t seem to look away. Finally, Lee blinked and looked away. “I see,” was all he said. After another moment, he looked back at Kana. “Well … I guess that makes sense. You’re a strong person to be able to make that kind of commitment and stick to it. I admire you.” He opened the door again and got out. “Thanks again for the ride. Hope you enjoy your work with the camp.”

“Thank you,” Kana answered quietly, feeling engulfed with a sadness she couldn’t quite define. She watched Lee walk through his office door, and then started her car and began the drive back to Gram’s house. “I know it was the right thing to do, Lord,” she prayed out loud now, “But it sure doesn’t feel good. … Should I have explained it a different way?” … She shook her head a little, trying to get a handle on her thoughts. “Am I really wanting to have a relationship with Lee Butler, Lord? … I’ve never thought I’d feel that way about a man who wasn’t a believer. … I just don’t understand any of it. I think maybe I need Your help as I’ve never needed it before.”

~

Chapter Seven

When Kana got back to the house, Gram told her she’d had a phone call from Cade O’Brien. “He said he really enjoyed meeting you at the magazine on Tuesday.”

“I enjoyed meeting him too. He stayed and talked with us quite a while about the children’s issue the girls are contemplating. Have you met him Gram?”

“Yes, I met him at the open house they had when they first got started, and then he visited at church once. But since he lives in Bryson City, North Carolina, he goes regularly to his home church there.”

“The photography he does for the magazine is really something special, isn’t it?”

“Yes, the girls think his pictures are what made the magazine so popular in such a short period of time.”

“Did he say what he wanted?”

“No, he just asked it you’d call him back at the number I left on the pad by the phone … that is, if you got in before 5:00.”

Kana looked at her watch. “Well, it’s ten ’till now, but I’ll try anyway.”

“I’d better check the meatloaf while you do that,” Gram said as she scooted off to the kitchen. Kana sat down in the living room and picked up the phone.

Gatlinburg Witness,” Beth answered on the other end of the line.

“Beth, it’s Kana Wallace.”

“Oh, hello! You’ll be glad to know we are already incorporating a couple of your ideas from the other day into the sample layout we’re working on.”

“Great. I hope they really are of some help. I’m actually calling now to return Cade O’Brien’s call to me earlier. Is he still there?”

“Yes. We’re running a little behind schedule … which isn’t at all unusual …so he’ll be here for a while yet. I’ll get him.”

It wasn’t anytime before Cade spoke on the other end. “Thanks for calling me back, Kana. I’ll come right to the point. I’d like to know if you’d consider going out to dinner with me tomorrow night? I thought we could go some place right here in Gatlinburg this first time, so I can have you back early enough Grandma Nora won’t worry about you,” he added with a teasing note in his voice.

“Oh …” Kana was totally unprepared for the invitation. She was still trying to collect her thoughts about Lee Butler. But she couldn’t hesitate too long, or Cade would think she was trying to avoid answering. “Well … I need to double check with Gram and make sure she hasn’t scheduled us for anything particular, but if not, I think I’d like to go to dinner with you.”

“Great. We’ll go any place you’d like. Why don’t you check with your grandmother and call me back. I’ll be here at least another thirty minutes. But let me give you my cell phone number anyway, just in case.”

Kana wrote down his number and hung up. She felt just a little confused. She had liked Cade when she’d met him, and after spending most of Tuesday afternoon with him and the girls, she felt as if she knew them all fairly well. And, after all, it had been quite a while since she had been out to dinner with a handsome, interesting man … or with any man at all for that matter. The last month of school, coupled with extra activities at her home church had kept her from having any real leisure until she had come to Gatlinburg.

And Cade O’Brien was handsome, with his brown, sun-streaked hair and his athletic physique. And … most important … he was a committed Christian … and fun to talk with on top of that. She nodded her head. Yes, this date might be just what she needed right now. She’d check with Gram.

“No, dear,” Gram said in answer to Kana’s question, “I didn’t plan anything for us for Saturday evening. I think it would be good for you to get out with some more people your own age. You said you liked Cade didn’t you?”

“Yes, very much. And you won’t feel that I’m deserting you?”

“Heavens no!”

“All right, I’ll call him back and accept.”

Since Kana wasn’t familiar with most of the restaurants in the city, they decided on a place that Cade knew well and arranged for him to pick her up at 6:00 the following evening. By the time she’d hung up, Kana was feeling a little flutter of excitement at the idea of going out again. Momentarily, the thought crossed her mind that it would be nice if things were different, and she could go to dinner with Lee Butler, but she did her best to quickly put that thought aside, and concentrated on helping Gram finish the preparations for supper.

The next evening, Kana dressed carefully for her date. She decided to wear her favorite knee-length dinner dress in midnight blue. She considered that it made her look especially trim, and she always felt comfortable wearing it. She added her favorite single strand of pearls, and decided she was ready.

When she answered the door, Cade’s eyes lit up. “Wow, you look great!” he said as he stepped inside. “Thank you,” she said. “Come on in and say ‘Hi’ to Gram while I get my purse.”

Cade walked into the living room and immediately reached out his hand to Grandma Nora, who had risen and crossed the room to welcome him.

“How are you, Grandma Nora?” he said, squeezing her hand gently. “I haven’t seen you in a couple of months now.”

“I know, but I keep up with your work through the magazine. Your photography is wonderful.”

“That’s just what I like to hear. It’s a blessing to be able to do work that gives me as much pleasure as it does the other people who view it.”

“I’m ready when you are,” Kana said as she came back into the room.

“I guess we’d better go then. I wasn’t sure how crowded they’d be, so I made a reservation for 6:30.” He turned to Gram now. “I’ll have her in before it’s really late.”

“I know you will, Cade, and thank you for considering my feelings. You two have a fun evening.”

An hour later, as she was sitting across the table from Cade, Kana realized that she was having fun. They hadn’t lacked for something to talk about from the first moment. Cade seemed really interested in her experiences with her students, and she was surprised to find that he had done a great deal of work photographing small children.

“Children have always been one of my favorite subjects,” he said now, “because there’s so much honesty in their expressions, for one thing. And when they’re looking at something new and unusual, their eyes get so big and bright, and most times that’s enough for a great picture all by itself.”

“I know what you mean.”

“As a matter of fact, one of the best shows I ever did was all photos of children, and it won some pretty impressive reviews.”

“That’s great. I’d love to see some of those pictures myself.”

“Well, I don’t want to seem like a parent bragging about his child, but I do have an album full of those particular pictures. I’ll bring it with me some day soon and leave it for you to see.”

“Oh, please do!” Kana said.

At that moment, the waitress came to see if they were ready for dessert, and as Kana looked up she looked right into the face of Lee Butler, who was sitting at a table halfway across the room. He smiled briefly, with a slight nod of his head and then turned immediately to the man sitting beside him who had spoken to him. There were two other men at his table, and an older woman.

Kana felt that flutter inside that was becoming all too familiar. She hadn’t realized he’d look so good in a suit and tie. She had seen him in his light blue work uniform, with the business logo on the front of the shirt. The rest of the time he had been dressed in casual slacks or jeans and various colors of knit polo shirts. His broad shoulders and well-muscled arms certainly set those off to perfection. But now she was amazed at how powerfully attractive he was in a basic dark suit and tie. She swallowed with difficulty and reminded herself to breathe normally.

“Have you decided yet?” Cade’s words broke into her thoughts as she looked toward the other table.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I just asked if you had decided what dessert you wanted yet? Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no. I just spotted someone I know and got a little sidetracked.” She looked down at her menu again. “I think I’ll have the Key Lime Pie.”

“Excellent choice,” Cade said and turned to the waitress who had been waiting patiently. “Make that two, and a little more coffee, please.”

The rest of the meal passed pleasantly enough, but Kana felt a little awkward, trying not to look toward Lee’s table, even though it was in her natural line of vision. She concentrated on looking right at Cade most of the time. He must have thought she was a very good listener, because her eye contact for the rest of the evening was almost perfect.

When they got up to leave, she was glad that the route to the entrance took them in the opposite direction of Lee’s table. She didn’t know why she felt uncomfortable. She supposed it was the fact that he had asked her to go somewhere first, and she had turned him down, and then accepted Cade’s invitation less than an hour later.

But after all, Cade was a sincere Christian, and she should be glad that she had made his acquaintance. She scolded herself silently for not concentrating on that fact, and immediately made great effort to do just that.

Cade walked her to the door when they arrived at the house, and after she had unlocked the front door, he took her hand gently between both of his. “I’ve really enjoyed this evening, Kana. Thank you.”

“I’ve had a great time too, Cade. Oh … I meant to ask you earlier, but we kept jumping from subject to subject, and I never got to it. I was wandering if you have to drive all the way back to Bryson City tonight?”

“No, I have a good friend here with a spare bedroom, and when I’m working several days in a row on the Witness, I just stay with him.”

“Oh, good. I was hoping you wouldn’t still have a long drive ahead of you.”

“Well …” he was still holding her hand. “If you enjoyed the evening too, maybe you’ll be willing to do something else with me soon?”

Kana paused just a moment, and then answered, smiling, “I think it’s safe to say I’d like to do that.”

“Good. I’ll call you in a couple of days, and we’ll plan something.”

“All right. Goodnight,” Kana said as she stepped through the doorway. “And thank you.”

“All my pleasure. Goodnight, Kana.”

Kana locked the door but waited for Cade to leave the drive before she turned out the light. “Is that you, dear?” Gram called from her bedroom. “I’m reading in bed. Do you want to tell me about your evening?”

Kana smiled to herself. Even if she hadn’t wanted to talk, she wouldn’t deprive Gram of a few details, so she went immediately to Gram’s room and sat down in a chair beside the bed. “We had a great evening. The dinner was delicious, and we never once ran out of interesting things to talk about.”

“I’m glad. Did you do anything else after dinner?”

Kana laughed. “No, believe it or not we’ve been at dinner all this time. We just took our time, really lingering over dessert and coffee. But Cade didn’t rush with his driving either. We just took our time and enjoyed the summer evening.”

Gram’s eyes twinkled. “So … do think there might be something promising in this new friendship?”

Kana reached over and laid her hand on top of her grandmothers, looking seriously into her eyes. “Just remember, Gram … that’s exactly what it is … a friendship … nothing more.” She got up and kissed Nora’s cheek. “And on that note, I’m going to bed. I love you.”

Grandma Nora chuckled and patted Kana’s cheek the way she used to when Kana was a child. “All right dear … but you can’t blame a granny for trying.” They both laughed out loud at that. “Sleep well, dear.”

“You too, Gram,” Kana said, as she started for her own room.

“Oh … by the way,” Gram spoke again, “Eve Butler called this evening. They are having an impromptu barbecue after church tomorrow and they wanted us to come. I thought it would be all right if I accepted for both of us.”

There was that flutter again. Just the thought that she might be spending the afternoon in Lionel’s company caused her heartbeat to speed up. What on earth was wrong with her! But she couldn’t act to Gram like she didn’t want to go; at least not without explaining everything, and she didn’t feel like she could do that right now. Besides … she did want to go, didn’t she?

“Sure, Gram, that’s fine. Will it be mostly family again?”

“Yes, only this time you’ll get to meet Eve’s parents too.”

“That’s good. Will they be at church this time to hear Delly sing?”

“Yes, I think that’s the plan … especially since she’s singing a solo this time.”

“She is? I didn’t know that. I imagine Lee will be there too.”

“Oh, I’m sure of that. I’d really like to see him find a good wife and have some children of his own. He’ll make a wonderful father … at least when he finally gives his heart to the Lord. He’d certainly have to be a man of God to lead his children properly.”

“Well, I’m certainly still praying for his salvation.” She stood there looking into the distance for a moment before she continued. “He and Cameron seem to have such a good, easy relationship. I wonder if he’s ever really opened up to Cameron about what hinders him from believing.”

“From what Darrin’s told me, he’s said one or two things, but just won’t open up past a certain point. But I believe God has established Lee’s friendship with our pastor, and He’ll put it to good use.”

“I’m sure you’re right, Gram. Well, goodnight again.”

“Night, Sweetheart,” Gram said and reached over and turned out her light as Kana started down the hall.

The next morning as Gram and Kana started down the aisle of the church, they noticed Eve waving at them from over on the left. She was seated between Darrin and Lionel with an older couple on the other side of Darrin. The rest of their pew was empty, so she was waving them over to sit with them. Kana left it to Gram to decide what she wanted to do, and immediately found herself following her grandmother to the seat. Lionel was on the outside, so he stood up and allowed Gram and then Kana to go in next to Eve. He then resumed his seat, which put him right beside Kana. There was room for all seven of them, but Kana was very much aware that her shoulder kept rubbing gently against Lee’s in such close quarters.

He was dressed more casually than he had been last night, in dress slacks and sport coat, but no tie. No matter what he wore, his clothes fit him like they would have fit a model, she thought. He had smiled and said, “Good morning,” as they were trading seats, but he sat now, looking rather intently at his bulletin. The service started almost immediately, so Kana didn’t try to speak to him either.

The music was beautiful, and Delly’s face glowed as she sang her solo. It was a joy to see someone so young excited about the Lord the way Delly was. Kana wished all of her students could have that experience. She wasn’t allowed to teach them anything about God in the public school, of course, but nothing could keep her from praying for them, which she did fervently every day.

After the service, everyone on their pew separated to their cars and headed for the Butler’s. Darrin was cooking on the grill, and Eve had everything else ready, waiting for the meat to get done. Kana was sitting in a lawn chair in the shade when Lee walked over to her with two glasses of lemonade. “I thought you’d like something cool while we’re waiting.”

“Yes, I would, thanks.”

He sat down in the chair next to hers. Gram and Eve were sitting at the picnic table with Eve’s parents and Delly, so that left Lee and Kana to have a quiet conversation alone. Kana struggled to decide what would make a good topic, and finally said, “I really like Eve’s parents. They seem like easy-going people.”

“They are. I’ve known them for years myself, even before Eve and Darrin married. They have the one other daughter – the one who was having the baby when you were here for Delly’s birthday – and they dote on their family.” He paused for a moment and then added. “And they’re both very strong Christians, like Eve,” he said now, looking lovingly at his sister-in-law. “She’s certainly been a wonderful mother to Delly. I hope they can have some more children soon.”

“I imagine they want more, especially if they can be like Delly. Gram said she’s actually named after your mother.”

As soon as she said the words, she realized she probably shouldn’t have brought up that subject. Lionel looked down at his hands, leaning over to prop his elbows on his knees, holding the glass of lemonade between his legs. He sighed just loud enough for Kana to hear, but he didn’t speak for another moment or two.

Finally he answered. “Yes, that’s right. My mother’s first name was Delores, and Delly looks like her, as does Darrin. Mom was half Cherokee, and that’s where they get their dark coloring and black hair.” He sighed, and Kana couldn’t help noticing that there was a hint of disgust in his next words. “I seem to have taken on a good deal of my dad’s coloring.” He looked over at Delly in thought for a moment and then continued. “Anyway, with Delly being the first grandchild – and perhaps the only one – who knows – Darrin wanted her named after Mom.”

“You talk as if you don’t expect to ever marry and have children yourself.”

Lionel looked at her then, a bleak expression on his face momentarily. “That’s right. I don’t.”

“Do you mind if I ask why?”

He shook his head slightly. “It isn’t important.”

Kana knew she was treading on dangerous ground, but she just had to try to understand this man a little better. Gram had said he was bitter about how his mother had been treated by his father … but was that all? Could she get away with asking him about his parents, she wondered. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

“Were both of your parents Christians?”

Lionel looked at her for a brief moment and then looked off in the distance, a brooding expression on his face. Finally, he looked back at Kana. “No.”

That was all he said at first, and Kana’s eyes questioned him further. He gave up trying to avoid the look in those big eyes of hers and spoke again. “No, my mother was a Christian, but not my dad. He didn’t believe in much of anything. … It made my mom’s life pretty hard.” Why had he shared that? He never talked about his parents with anyone!

Kana nodded her head. “I understand how that would be the case.”

Lionel looked sharply at her, surprise registering on his face. “You do?

Kana felt surprise that he was surprised by what she’d said. But then she remembered that he didn’t really understand the difference it made being bound to an unbeliever. She looked at him seriously. “Yes, I do,” she answered quietly, her eyes gentle and caring as she looked right into his. “That’s why I’ve made the commitments I’ve made to the Lord about marriage.”

Lionel was looking at her intently, soaking in what she had just said. Understanding dawned in his mind then, and she could see it on his face. He nodded his head, as he answered her just as quietly. “I see,” was all he said, but Kana knew that he was seeing – or at least considering – something deeper than the actual words she had spoken.

Kana couldn’t have known it, but as a result of her simple words, Lionel Butler was looking at some things from his past in a new light, and for the first time since his mother’s death, he was opening a door to understanding some things from God’s point of view.

~

Chapter Eight

The rest of Sunday afternoon had passed happily enough, and now Monday morning brought a sense of excitement to Kana as she prepared to begin her first day as the first grade teacher at the camp. She arrived early to find two other teachers already there, as well as Cameron, of course. The others began arriving rapidly, as did the students, and Kana realized everyone was feeling that same sense of excitement. It was something like the first day of school, but there was even more freedom than she would have felt there.

Delly was especially excited, because it was a new beginning for her. She was now in a real first grade class, and it gave her a sample of what she could expect when her school actually started in the fall. Of course, she would be going to Prince of Peace Christian School, so she would be taught about the Lord there too.

By Wednesday, the students, many of whom came from other churches, were all well acquainted, and their work and play was progressing nicely. During lunch break, Delly sat beside Kana and began to tell her about her exciting plans for the weekend.

“Mommy and Daddy are going on a trip on Friday,” she said, grinning broadly, “and I get to stay with Uncle Lee!”

“You’ll enjoy that,” Kana answered. “Where are your mom and dad going?”

“Daddy has to go to Chattanooga for some supplies, and Uncle Lee said he and mommy needed a rest and some time together, so he would make some special plans with me, and they could stay as long as they wanted.”

“So what plans have you made?”

“Well, Uncle Lee’s going to close up early and pick me up from camp, and then we’re going to go ride on the sky lift. After that we’re going to eat corn dogs and caramel apples until they’re coming out our ears.” She couldn’t keep from giggling at what she had just said. “That’s what Uncle Lee says … and then we’re going to a movie.”

“I’d say that’s a full evening. What about Saturday?”

“Well, Uncle Lee said he would close this Saturday. They don’t usually, you know; they stay open in the morning. but he said he would close this time just for me. And we’re going to sleep as long as we want and then go to the pancake house and eat a b-i-i-g breakfast.” By this time, Kana was clearing away their lunch mess, and they were walking back to their classroom. “And then we’re going to the stables and ride horses!”

“Delly, that sounds like a wonderful time.”

Delly nodded her head enthusiastically. “And we still have to think about what to do after that.”

“I see.” Kana couldn’t resist asking her next question. “And will Uncle Lee bring you to church, or will your mom and dad be back by then?”

“They’re not coming back until Sunday afternoon, so Uncle Lee will be bringing me to church.” She grinned from ear to ear. “I’m glad. I want him to come all the time.”

“I know you do. I’m praying for that too.”

Delly nodded her head again. “Gram Nora said you help her pray about everything. I pray with her about Uncle Lee. She says he’s going to get saved for sure.”

Kana just couldn’t resist hugging Delly to her. “I’m sure he will too, honey. You just keep praying.”

On Friday afternoon, Lionel was waiting for Delly right at 4:00. Kana walked out with her class, and naturally, Lionel stopped to speak to her. “How’s it going, Kana?”

“Really well. I’m so glad I decided to do this.”

“I think Delly enjoys every day better than the one before.”

“I’m glad.”

“Uncle Lee,” Delly spoke as she tucked her hand in his. “Can Kana come with us to ride the sky lift and then to eat corn dogs?”

Lionel hadn’t considered the possibility of that question and was totally unprepared with an answer that would satisfy Delly without getting into too much detail. He would have been glad to have Kana along, but he knew she wouldn’t want to come. He gave her a helpless look.

Kana quickly knelt down to Delly’s height. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry, but I already have plans for this evening, but thank you anyway.”

“Okay … maybe some other time.”
“Maybe,” Kana said, rising and glancing briefly at Lee. She smiled at him and then at Delly again. “Have fun, you two.”

Lionel had recovered by then and smiled back. “We will, thank you.”

As they walked away to Lionel’s car, Kana sighed deeply, experiencing again the sadness she often felt when she thought of Lee Butler. Everything in her wanted to go with them … everything, that is, except the part of her that knew it would only lead to more sadness than she felt now.

When Kana arrived home, Gram was all excited about some plans she had been considering. “Kana, ever since you told me last night about Lee babysitting this weekend, I’ve been thinking about inviting him and Delly to lunch after church on Sunday. Would you have any objections?”

How could she tell her grandmother that she was finding herself wanting to spend too much time with Lee Butler? She took a minute or two to answer, which caused Gram Nora to look at her a little curiously, but she didn’t say anything until Kana answered. “No, Gram, I think that would be a good idea.”

Gram looked relieved and said that she’d call right away and arrange it.

“I think I’ll shower and change into something nice and sloppy,” Kana said, and then I’ll call Vallie and have a nice long chat with her after we eat.”

“Good idea. The wedding’s just around the corner now, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s getting close. It’ll be too late to change their minds soon.” Now why had she said that? She didn’t know her own mind sometimes these days. Well, at least Gram hadn’t looked at her funny, so she’d probably taken it as a joke. “Oh, by the way have you heard any more about when Mom and Dad are coming up?”

“Oh, I forgot,” Gram said, reaching over to the table and picking up a small card which she handed to Kana. “We got a card today. They’ll try to come the first weekend in July. They’re pretty sure they can stay a week if they wait and come then.”

After they’d cleaned up the kitchen from supper, Kana carried the phone out to the back yard to make her call to Valentina. She didn’t like this despondency she kept slipping into lately, and she hoped talking with her best friend would help dispel that problem.

Vallie answered the phone herself.

“Hey girl!” Kana said, cheered already by Vallie’s bubbly voice. “It’s great to hear your voice. How’s it going?”

“I’m so glad you called! I’ve been thinking about you all week, but it’s been like a madhouse up here, and I never seemed to get time to call when I could talk a while. However, I think we’ve got everything back on track now.”

“Serious problems?”

“No,” Vallie said, laughing. “At least not to me. I suppose the bride considered them serious, since she was in tears about a couple of arrangements that haven’t gone as planned, but really they were no big deal. And everything’s back under control now.”

“Good, I’m glad. Does Veronica still seem as happy about actually getting married as she did earlier?”

“Happy? … Happy? … I’m telling you, Kana, that girl is delirious, she’s so happy! I only hope I’ll be half as excited over the man I marry as she is over Steven.”

Kana laughed, her spirits lifting more by the minute. “I’m so glad. She’s a sweet girl, and she deserves to be that happy.”

“Well, I know another very sweet girl who deserves all the happiness she can find, and I’m wondering how she’s doing,” Vallie said with just a touch of seriousness in her voice.

“Well, for one thing, this first week of the children’s camp was great! And it was so much fun. Hardly like work at all. And, you know, Vallie, for the first time since I started teaching, I’m wondering if I wouldn’t rather be teaching in a Christian school. It’s just wonderful to be able to talk freely to all of these kids about the Lord. And some of those who are coming aren’t actually Christians. It’s just that this camp has developed such a good reputation for the work with the kids that a lot of people who don’t even attend church anywhere send their kids to it.”

“You sure sound excited … but you’re not seriously thinking about deserting me and Nashville for one of the Christian schools down there are you?”

Kana had to laugh. “No … not really. I don’t even know if any of them have positions I’d be qualified for anyway. It was just a thought.”

“Well, thinking’s all right, as long as it doesn’t go too far.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“Now … let’s get down to serious business. What’s happening in the men’s department?”

“Vallie, you nut! You sound like you’re talking about a department store.”

“Stop stalling, Kana! Tell me what’s going on.”

“We-e-e-l-l … I had a date the other night with the photographer from the Gatlinburg Witness. I met him that day I went in to talk with the girls about their new children’s issue that I told you about. He’s a Christian, and he actually lives in Bryson City, North Carolina, but he stays over here several days at a time when he’s shooting for the magazine.”

“And …”

“And … he’s very nice ….”

“ And he looks like … Come on, girl, you used to do better at this!”

Kana laughed out loud then, as did Vallie. “Okay, okay, he has brown hair that’s been streaked blond by the sun, so it looks almost caramel color. He has a gorgeous tan, eyes that look like copper when he gets excited about something he’s talking about … and he loves photographing children. How’s that?”

Much better! Now we’re getting somewhere. So are you going out with him again?”

“I told him I would, but I don’t want to do anything much until after the last week of camp. And then Mom and Dad will be here for about a week, so I don’t really know how all of it will work out.”
“Are those the real reasons, or are you holding back because you’re still not sure what you feel about Lionel Butler?”

Kana sighed deeply, and Vallie thought that they were finally getting to the crux of the situation. “Oh, Vallie … I don’t know.” Vallie didn’t answer. She just waited, giving Kana time to decide what she needed to tell her. “I decided that I just needed to stay away from him as much as possible, but it seems like everything else is throwing us together. Even Gram has invited him and his niece for dinner Sunday. He’s taking care of Delly this weekend while her parents are in Chattanooga.”

“Hmmmmm …That does complicate things. Have you had a chance to talk with him about spiritual things at all?”

“Not really. We did talk just a little about his dad’s not being a Christian, even though his mother was, and how it made her life very hard. I told him that situation is common in marriages where one person is a believer and the other isn’t, and that’s why I made the commitments to the Lord that I did.”

“Did he seem to understand?”

“Yeah … as a matter of fact, I got the feeling that it might have caused him to start thinking about his mom and dad’s relationship a little differently … but … I can’t say for sure.”

“Are you really attracted to him, Kana?”

Kana couldn’t hold back yet another sigh. “Yes … yes, Vallie … I’m very attracted to him. … And it isn’t just physical.”

“Well, I know you well enough to know that.”

“Oh, he’s very good looking … all over … but it’s something inside that I’m actually drawn to the most. There’s sweetness and an earnestness about him that I can’t ignore. And in spite of the fact that he isn’t a believer, he definitely has a code of honor that he lives by strictly. You can tell that in how he deals with people and circumstances in his life. I even know from some things Gram has told me about him that he’s almost always been that way.”

“In other words, if he were just a Christian, he’d be Mr. Right?”

“I don’t know …. I guess that’s probably true.”

“Well, there’s no question this is the most serious situation you’ve found yourself in since I’ve known you, dear. But you know you can trust God, Kana. Let’s just keep praying about it.”

“Thanks, Vallie. I can’t tell you how much it helps just to talk to you about it and know you’ll be praying.”

“Faithfully … every day.”

“Thanks. … Oh, I forgot … I meant to ask if you had taken up with any old flames since you’ve been home.”

“Well, at this point, no. I’ve just been too busy. And besides, all the men I’ve spent time with since I’ve been here are either married or engaged. But … who knows … there may be a pack of single guys at the wedding,” she said, laughing again. “I’m not in a big hurry, as you know, and … it’s kind of odd … but sometimes I wonder if I’m subconsciously comparing any guy I meet to Dr. McDaniels.”

“Oh, the music professor you had a crush on in college?”

“That’s the one,” Vallie said, laughing out loud. “And I didn’t leave college with a broken heart or anything because he didn’t return my feelings. But I just find it odd that a crush can have that much of a lasting effect.”

Kana laughed too. “Kind of like a crush hangover.”

Vallie roared with laughter on the other end of the phone now. “Exactly.”

“Hey! I just thought of something. Gram’s pastor is named McDaniels. Do you think they might be related?”

“Oh, it isn’t too likely. There must be a number of families with that name in the United States. Dr. McDaniels’ mother was Honduran, and his coloring is definitely from her Hispanic side. Is that what the pastor looks like?”

“No, he has blond hair and blue eyes. He’s darker skinned than most blond people, but that’s probably mostly a tan. Oh, well. I just thought maybe the Lord had a plan for your path to cross with your professor’s again in the future.”

“Kana, he isn’t my professor. He never was. He was out of my league, and I’m sure he would consider himself too sophisticated for someone like me anyway.”

“How old was he when you knew him?”

“Oh, somewhere in his mid thirties.”

“Hmmmm”

“And what does that mean?”

“It just means that sounds like a good age to me. Of course, he’d be older now, but then so are you.”

“Will you stop, you nut! We’re supposed to be talking about your love life. Besides, as I said, I really don’t think about Dr. McDaniels much at all anymore. It’s just that when I meet a man I think I might be interested in, he just never seems to measure up to what I expect for some reason.”

“Yeah, but that could present a problem eventually.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well … if none of them measures up to your professor –”

“Kana! If you don’t stop this nonsense, I’m going to hang up! Besides, although mom’s truly happy for Veronica and Steve, she’s been sniffling through this whole week. I don’t think she’s going to be willing to consider giving up her only other daughter for quite some time.”

Kana laughed again. “I bet you’re right. But she’s not really upset, is she?”

“No. She knows it’s the Lord that brought them together, and the fact that they’re still going to live close by will help a lot.”

“That’s true. … Well, listen, I feel bad that I’ve tied you up for so long on the phone. I’d better let you get on to other things.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute, and you know it.”

“Me too. Give your mom and the rest of the family my love, will you?”

“I will, hon. It’s sure been good to hear from you. I’ll try to make the next call, and I promise to get back to you before the wedding.”

“Anytime’s fine. If I get desperate, I’ll call you back.”

“Okay …. Say “hi” to Gram for me.”

“I’ll do that. I love you, Val.”

“I love you, hon. Take care of yourself now. Bye.”

“Bye.” Kana smiled as she clicked off the receiver. She leaned her head back on the lounger where she was sitting and looked up at the sky. The stars were just starting to show up well. She was quiet for some time and then uttered a short prayer. “Lord, You’ve always led me and guarded me. I don’t want to make a mess of my life at this point. Please show me what’s going on inside of me and what You want me to do about it. I belong to You, Lord, not myself. Please direct my steps perfectly. … I trust You, Father. Thank You. … Amen.”

Sunday morning, when Kana woke, she realized that she no longer felt a burden about the afternoon she’d be spending with Lee Butler. Somehow, the Lord had lifted the weight of it since Friday, and she went about getting ready for church with a light heart. During church, she couldn’t help but sneak a few peaks at Lee and Delly, who were sitting right across the aisle from them. Unless she was mistaken, Lee seemed a little more relaxed than he had the other times she’d seen him there. He and Delly were whispering and chuckling about something right up until the service started.

She watched as that little girl snuggled her hand into her uncles and even leaned her head over on his shoulder a time or two. If anybody could draw Lee Butler to the point of seeing his need for the Lord, surely it would be Delly.

When they all arrived back at Gram’s for lunch, it seemed like a festive occasion. Lee seemed right at home at her grandmother’s house, and certainly Delly considered it one of her homes away from home. They talked and laughed, and just really enjoyed their time around the table. Then Gram told Delly that she had rented a funny movie for them to watch as soon as the kitchen was cleaned up, so she and Delly went right to work on that job, shooing Kana and Lee into the living room until time for the movie.

After they were seated, in chairs facing each other, Kana decided to wait and see what Lionel would talk about. He looked just a little restless for a moment or two, but then looked directly at her and said, “Actually, Kana, I’m glad we have this time to talk a few minutes. There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.”

“What is it, Lee?’

He cleared his throat, and leaned forward in his chair. “Well, first of all, I hope you know that Friday when Delly invited you to come along with the two of us, my hesitancy wasn’t because I didn’t want you to come.”

“I didn’t really think that was the case.”

“I just didn’t want you to feel awkward after we had talked in the car the other day, and I quite frankly didn’t know what to tell Delly.”

“Please don’t feel bad about that, Lee. I understood perfectly.”

“Good. I was pretty sure you did. You’re an extremely sensitive and compassionate person, Kana. … And …” He cleared his throat again. “And that’s why I feel I can ask you about something else.”

“Anything you want.”

“The other day when we talked about my parents, you said you understood how their life could have been so bad, and you indicated that it might have been mainly because my mother was a Christian and my dad wasn’t. And you believe that’s why the Bible tells Christians not to marry anyone who isn’t a believer in Christ.” He looked directly into her eyes. “I did understand you correctly, didn’t I?”

“Yes …t hat is what I said.”

“I have to admit that I’ve always just blamed my dad for all of the horrible things he put my mom through, and then I blamed God for letting her have to live that way even though she supposedly belonged to Him.” He paused and cleared his throat again. “It just never occurred to me that maybe my mother had made a choice that had brought her to that place … and that she might actually have been disobeying God when she made that choice.”

Kana could see the pain in his eyes as he spoke. Her heart yearned to comfort him, but she didn’t quite know how. One thing she did know – his was part of the Lord’s working in answer to many prayers that had been prayed for this man.

“Those must be thoughts that are hard for you to have to deal with,” she finally said.

He nodded his head and looked down at the floor for a moment. When he looked back at her, she could see resolution in his eyes as he began to speak again.

“Darrin and I went to church some during most of our growing up years, and I’ve heard the Bible read again and again …. In fact, I used to read it myself every day … mainly because Mom wanted me to …but at that time I thought I believed it … at least a little.” He shook his head as if to clear it. “Anyway … the point I’m getting to is this. I know I’ve heard some of those scriptures read that talk about Christians being in relationships with non-Christians, but I don’t remember where they are, and I’d like to read them again … to see if maybe I can understand all of this a little more than I have up to now. And instead of having to hunt around until I find all of them, I wondered if you could direct me to where I need to read.”

Kana’s face lit up with her smile; so did her eyes. “Why, I’d be glad to, Lee.” She stood up. “Let me get a piece of paper and a pen and write them down right now for you.”

Just at that time, Gram and Delly came in to announce that they were putting the movie into the VCR in the den and wanted Kana and Lee to join them.

“I’m just going to get a pen and paper to write some information down for Lee, and then I’ll be there.” She turned to Lee. “You go on in; I’ll be right back with what you need.”

Lionel was a little surprised, and absolutely delighted, that his request had put that kind of light in Kana’s eyes. Maybe … just maybe … there really were some answers other than the ones he’d been believing all these years. Somehow, he felt that if anyone could help him find them, surely Kana could.

~~~

Chapter Nine

They were about halfway through the movie when the phone rang, and Kana jumped up to answer it. “I’ll take it in the kitchen so I don’t disrupt the movie,” she said as she left the room. It was several minutes before she returned, and when she did, her face was pale, and she walked over and turned the volume down on the TV. She then walked over to her grandmother’s chair and knelt down beside her.

“Gram . . .” There were tears in her eyes, and Lionel got up from where he had been sitting across the room and came and knelt on the other side of Gram, where Delly was sitting.

“What is it, Kana?” Gram asked, concern filling her own eyes now.

“That was Mom on the phone,” Kana said, her voice husky. “She called to tell us that dad was on his way home from a meeting in Baltimore … coming by private plane … and they’ve lost contact with the plane he was on.” She brushed at a tear that had slipped down her cheek.

“Oh, my dear,” Gram said, reaching out and enfolding Kana in her arms.

“Mom said it’s been three hours since they’ve heard from the pilot. She had thought he’d be in about 2:00, so she was actually at the airport waiting when they told her. At that time it had been over an hour since they had lost radio contact, but they didn’t seem terribly concerned. But after another hour, they knew something had to be very wrong.” Kana swiped at another tear. “Mom’s trying to be strong, but I could tell she’s having a hard time. She called their pastor, and he and his wife are at the house with her now … waiting.”

“We’ll pray right now,” Gram said, reaching out to take Delly’s hand also.

Kana nodded her head and closed her eyes as her grandmother began the prayer.

Lionel knew he didn’t have much of any faith to contribute, but he bowed his head and wished with all of his heart for Kana’s father to be all right. He knew Delly was reaching out to the God she had great faith in, and he held her hand and tried to believe too.

“Dear Lord, we come to you in the name of Jesus,” Gram prayed now. “We know that Your mercies are new every day, and we know that Ellen and Dave pray every morning for the mercy of Your protection over them. So, Lord we’re going to believe that You have been protecting Dave on this trip, and that even though they have no contact with that plane, You still have contact, and You’re taking care of things. Lord, we ask You to continue to keep Dave and any other passengers safe and make a way for the authorities to get back in contact with the pilot and get help to all of them if they need it. … And … please give us some good news soon … and give us Your peace while we wait. Thank You, Lord. Amen.”

When she had finished, she squeezed Kana’s hand tightly, and added. “Now, I’m going to call Pastor McDaniels and then Hilary, so we can get everyone on the prayer chain praying too. Why don’t you come into the kitchen with me, Delly, while I call, and then we can make some coffee and see if we can’t find you some more lemonade.”

When they had left the room, Lionel moved over to the seat where Gram had been sitting, and took one of Kana’s hands in his. “I’m so sorry,” he said, feeling the total inadequacy of the words.

Kana only nodded her head, but she did squeeze his hand a little and didn’t remove it from his grasp. Lionel knew it would do her more good to talk about her family than to just sit there, so he began to gently nudge her into normal conversation.

“Tell me a little about your father.”

Kana smiled. “My dad’s the greatest. He was always my idol when I was growing up. Of course, since I was an only child … and a girl … I think he was a little over protective, but I was his pride and joy.”

“What kind of work does he do?”

“He’s been a high school principal for the last fifteen years. He taught before that. He’s always enjoyed working with kids, and he does a lot with the youth at church too. He’s always been the kind of dad who is a lot of fun.”

“I’m sure I’d like him.”

Kana looked into Lionel’s eyes and saw the concern there. Once again those eyes seemed to be able to see deeply into her soul, and she couldn’t seem to turn away. Finally she spoke again in a husky voice. “I’m sure you would too … and he’d like you. I hope you get to meet him one of these days.” Her last sentence was almost choked with the tears she was striving to hold back, and Lionel couldn’t keep himself from slipping down beside her where she still knelt on the floor and gently wrapping her in his arms.

She rested her head on his shoulder and sagged against him, sighing with relief. She needed someone to hold her right now. They just stayed in that position for several minutes, until, finally, Kana lifted her head and smiled at him. “I think we both need to get off of this floor, don’t you?”

He grinned that now familiar, inviting grin and answered, “That might be a good idea at that.” With those words, he rose and took hold of her elbows and helped her up.

“I think I’ll see if I can help Gram with the coffee,” Kana said, and Lionel followed her to the kitchen.

“The coffee’s just finishing,” Gram said as they entered the room. “I’ve talked with Cameron and Hilary, and they’ve started getting people into prayer. Cameron said he’ll be over in a few minutes. He wants to stay with us until time for the evening service.”

Just then the phone rang again, and Kana froze for a second, looking at Gram, and then at Lionel.

“Would you like for me to get it?” Lionel asked.

“No,” Kana said. “No, I can do it,” she added as she walked over to pick up the receiver on the wall phone.

“Hello,” she spoke, almost breathless with the stress.

“Yes, Eve,” she said now, looking at Lionel and smiling.

“Yes, that’s right, and that’s all we know at this point.” She paused again, listening, and then added, “Well, if you’d like to, we’d certainly be glad to have you. As a matter of fact, your daughter and brother-in-law are here anyway,” she said, grinning broadly now.

“Yeah … they had dinner with us and watched part of a movie. We haven’t finished it since we were interrupted with the news about dad’s plane. But I think they plan on being here a while longer.”

She listened for another minute and then said, “But if you two need to go home first, please do that. We’re just waiting over here now anyway – and praying, of course – but I know you’ve already done that too. Do you need to talk to Lee for any reason?”

He walked over to be close by if he was wanted, but Kana shook her head slightly at his questioning look. “Okay, Eve,” she said into the phone again. “And thank you so much. We’ll see you soon. Bye.”

She hung up and turned to the others.

“Was that my mommy?” Delly asked, her eyes alight. “Are they back already?”

“That was your mommy, sweetheart,” Kana said, walking over and caressing the little girls hair, “but she isn’t quite home yet. She was calling from her cell phone.” Kana then looked up at Gram and continued. “Hilary called them on their cell phone, and Eve said they’re going to come straight here, because they want to be with us.”

“That’s so sweet of them,” Gram said. “Will they be here soon then?”

“She said about an hour yet. You know, I think I’ll give Mom another call, just in case she tried to get through when our line’s been tied up.”

“Do that, dear, and I’ll talk to her this time,” Gram said.

“Delly,” her uncle spoke as he reached out and took her hand. “Why don’t you and I go and watch the rest of our movie while Gram and Kana talk on the phone. They’ll come and tell us if there’s anything else we need to know.”

“Okay, Uncle Lee,” Delly said, getting down from her chair. “Can I take my lemonade?” she asked, looking at Gram.

“You sure can, honey,”

So Kana dialed her mother as Lee and Delly returned to the den, and once she was sure there was no new information about her dad, she handed the phone to Gram. She was sure her mother would get more comfort talking with her own mom than she would from anyone else anyway.

The day turned into evening, and though they were tired from the strain of waiting, Kana and Gram were encouraged by the love their friends poured out on them. When Cameron and Suzanne came, they brought a huge pot of soup, so there was no need to fix a meal, and when Eve and Darrin arrived, they brought in a box of donuts.

They all gathered around the kitchen table at one point and prayed again all together for the safety of those on the plane and for a quick rescue from whatever situation they were in. Then, encouraged by their pastor to act like they believed what they had prayed, they all made a good attempt at eating the food laid out before them.

Cameron had to leave to conduct the evening service, but he promised they would pray together as a congregation during the service. Suzanne stayed with the family, and as soon as he could get away, Cameron returned to continue his support while they waited.

Finally, by 9:30, Eve decided she needed to get Delly home and into bed. She hugged Gram as she and Darrin were preparing to leave. “We’ll still be praying and believing, and we’ll be up ourselves for several more hours, so you call if you hear anything at all, okay?”

“I promise,” Gram said. Then she turned to Lionel. “Are you going now too?”

“No … if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay with you a while longer.”

“Oh, bless you, Lee,” Gram said squeezing his arm. “I don’t mind at all. In fact, I’m very glad you’re staying. Why don’t we sit in the living room for a while and prop our feet up?”

“I think I’m going out and walk around in the yard a few minutes, Gram,” Kana said.

“But honey, it’s completely dark now.”

“I know, but I just need to get some air. I won’t be too long,” she said as she slipped out the back door.

“And I’m going to straighten up the kitchen,” Lionel said.

“Oh, no, you’re not!” Gram answered, looking shocked.

Lionel took hold of her shoulders and started pushing her gently to the kitchen door. “Oh, yes, I am. You and your pastor and Suzanne go on in there and get some rest. I’ll be in shortly.”

Cameron and Suzanne were laughing. “He’s bigger than you are, Grandma Nora,” Cameron said. “You might as well give up and do as you’re told.”

“All right,” she said, laughing a little herself now. “Bless you, Lee. But don’t think you have to be too fussy.”

“I won’t; don’t worry.”

Lionel had everything cleaned off and the dishwasher loaded within twenty minutes, and then he slipped quietly out the back door to look for Kana. He knew she needed a little time alone, but he didn’t want her to have so much time that it did more harm than good. He spotted her leaning against a portion of fence staring up at the stars. He cleared his throat to warn her that he was there.

She didn’t take her eyes from the stars, but she spoke quietly. “I heard you come out. Did you want something in particular?”

He had walked up to stand beside her now. “No … I just thought maybe you’d had enough time alone and might like a little company.”

She sighed deeply and looked at him. “I was just praying some more … and thinking that the God who made all those stars and knows them all by name surely cares enough about my father to keep him safe and get him back to us.”

“That seems like sound reasoning to me,” he said, burdened because he couldn’t add to her faith with any of his own. He could feel her pain and wanted with all of his heart to comfort her. But he had only his own human strength to offer, and, right now, he knew that wasn’t enough.

She looked back up at the stars, and he could see tears glistening on her cheeks. Instinctively, he reached out and put his arm around her shoulders. Without realizing it, Kana turned into his embrace, and he wrapped her completely in his arms. Her head rested against his shoulder for the second time that day, but this time, he felt an overwhelming need to kiss away her tears.

His lips moved of their own volition, planting tender kisses along her hair … then moving slowly to her ear … then to her cheek. Kana wasn’t thinking now. She was just feeling … feeling the comfort of Lee’s arms … the healing of his kisses. She lifted her face slowly, as a flower lifts its head to the sun after the rain.

He tasted the salt of her tears and continued to let his lips travel across her face in an effort to console her. Before he could even realize what had happened, his lips had tasted hers. His touch on her mouth had been feather-light, but it had acted like a magnet, and although he lifted his lips a fraction of an inch, he couldn’t manage to pull away any further. Nor could Kana. Their lips sought each other again … this time with an urgency born of the need to give and receive healing.

The kiss lasted only a couple of moments before Kana realized what was happening. She pressed gently on Lionel’s chest and pulled away, looking up at him with confusion on her face. Lionel immediately felt remorse for having taken such a liberty after what Kana had told him about her commitment where unbelievers were concerned. He had truly only meant to comfort her. What had happened? He opened his mouth to try to explain, but was forestalled by Suzanne calling from the back door.

“Kana! Good news! Hurry in here!”

Kana’s eyes grew wide, and excitement lightened her face as she looked into Lionel’s eyes for one more moment and then turned and ran to the door. Lionel followed as quickly as possible, and as he entered the kitchen, he heard Kana on the phone, “Oh, Daddy! Is it really you?” She was laughing and crying all at the same time, while she listened to her father on the other end of the line.

Lionel looked to Cameron to get an explanation, and he obliged. “It seems that the plane did go down, but the pilot was able to land it safely enough to keep everyone from any serious injury. But their radio equipment was completely out, and they were in a remote area, so it took this long for anyone to figure out where they were and get to them.” He sighed deeply, grinning from ear to ear as he slapped Lionel on the shoulder. “God’s certainly been good to us today, Lee.”

Lionel nodded his head. He still wasn’t sure what he believed, but he was engulfed in gratitude … to someone … for delivering Kana from the loss of the father she loved so dearly. “I’m sure relieved for all of them. … And I don’t think they’ll need me any more tonight, so I’d better head home. My alarm goes off at 6:00 whether I’ve had any sleep or not, so I think I’ll try to get a little now that things are back to normal.” He glanced over to the phone and saw that Grandma Nora was hanging on every word and waiting her turn, so he spoke again to Cameron. “They’re so excited, I don’t want to interrupt them. You tell them I said goodnight, will you? And tell them I’ll stop by Darrin’s and give them the news. Then if Gram wants to call too she can, but she won’t have to feel obligated to get back to them tonight.”

“I’ll be sure and tell them, Lee,” Cameron answered as he reached out to take Lee’s hand in a firm shake. “You’ve been a great support to them today. I know they both appreciate it more than words can say.”

“Well … I wasn’t able to do much, but I did want to be here for them. I’ll talk to you later.” He turned to Suzanne. “Goodnight, Suzanne. I’ll see you guys again soon.”

“Goodnight, Lee, and thank you on behalf of all of us.”

Lionel nodded his head in response and walked back through the house and out the front door to where he’d left his car. He was still confused about what had happened in the back yard. He still felt bad that he had let it happen. But when he remembered how Kana had felt in his arms … and how their kiss had felt so much like coming home from a long, weary journey. … Well … he was even more confused now. “I need to get some sleep,” he finally told himself as he backed the car out of the drive and started home. 

~

Chapter Ten

The following Thursday morning, Lionel called Cameron at the church office.

“Good morning, Lee. It’s good to hear from you.”

“Good morning, Cameron. Your secretary said you had a minute to talk.”

“I do; can I help you with something?”

“Well … I’m not sure … but I think I’d like to talk with you a while and find out if you can help me. What kind of time do you have available some time in the next few days?”

Cameron reached over and studied his calendar. “I’m sure we can find a good time, Lee. … Uh … listen … I have an alternate idea. Unless you just particularly want to talk at the church office, what about coming to dinner this evening at the house? And then if you feel comfortable talking with Suzanne and me together, we’ll do that, but if you don’t, we can go to my study after dinner and have the discussion with just the two of us.”

“That sounds good, if you don’t think Suzanne will feel like we’ve imposed on her at such short notice.”

“No … that never bothers her. Besides, she’s been wanting us to get Chinese carry-out some evening soon, and I can do that.

“All right. Sounds good. What time do you want me there?”

“Let’s say 6:30, just to be on the safe side, and come hungry. Do you know how to get to the house?”

“Yeah, I think so. I rode along with Darrin one evening when he had to drop off some material for you, remember?”

“Oh, that’s right. Good. We’ll see you at 6:30 then. And feel free to say whether you want to talk in front of Suzie or not, Lee. She won’t mind either way.”

“Actually, I think maybe I’d like to have your wife’s input on this, if she wouldn’t mind.”

“She’ll be thrilled to think she can help. See you later.”

“Thanks a lot, Cameron. Bye.”

When Lionel arrived at the McDaniels’ home, Cameron opened the door with a grin on his face that spread from ear to ear. His eyes sparkled, and he beamed at Lionel, reaching out to grab his hand in a wrenching handshake. “Come in, come in, Lee! You’re just in time to help us celebrate!”

“Oh? What’s happened?”

By that time Suzanne had come into the foyer, also grinning from ear to ear.

“Hello, Lee,” she said, shaking his hand briskly. “Welcome to our home.” She glanced at Cameron. “And yes, we have had the best news possible this afternoon!”

Lee looked from one to the other, feeling elated for them without even knowing what any of the facts were. They were like excited children, and their feelings were contagious. They began to usher him into the dining room as Cameron spoke again.

“Come on in and sit down at the table. The food’s ready. As soon as we pray over it, we can eat and talk at the same time.” When he’d finished praying, he handed Suzanne one bowl and Lee another. “Dig in, Lee, while I tell you what’s happened.”

He glanced back at Suzanne, his eyes sparkling even more, if that were possible, his face beaming with his love for his beautiful wife. Then he looked back to Lee as he spoke. “Suzanne and I just found out for sure this afternoon that we’re parents! The baby’s due in January.”

“That’s wonderful news!” Lee said looking from one to the other. “You’ll both make great parents.”

“Thank you, Lee,” Suzanne said, reaching over to lay her hand on his arm momentarily. “What a sweet thing to say.”

“I appreciate your saying that too, Lee. Suzanne and I both certainly have great role models in both sets of grandparents … who, by the way, were ecstatic when we called them right after we found out.”

Lionel was caught unaware by a sudden sense of hurt and loss at the mention of the McDaniels’ parents and the excellent job they did with their families. Surely he wasn’t feeling jealous of Cameron and Suzanne. … But then … maybe he was a little at that. … Maybe he was jealous of the fact that they’d each had two loving, happy parents and a good home life. … In fact, he wasn’t sure he didn’t feel jealous of the thought that they would also have a wonderful family of their own, while he felt destined to be alone for the rest of his life.

But he tried to keep up his end of the conversation without giving away his feelings. After all, he was truly happy for them, and he believed they deserved the joy of children.

After they’d talked of babies and other family subjects for about a half an hour, Cameron looked straight at Lionel, and his face became serious. “We appreciate your indulging us for a while, Lee. We haven’t forgotten you’re here to discuss something of a serious nature to you, and you’ve been very patient with us.”

“Oh, I’m delighted to be one of the first people you’ve told. Please don’t apologize. You two deserve to have a large, happy family, and I’m genuinely thrilled for both of you.”

“Thank you. I know you meant that. … Now … let’s get to you.”

Lionel leaned back in his chair with a sigh. He reached for his coffee cup and took another drink while he collected his thoughts and refocused on the subject he’d come to discuss. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about some issues that have troubled me deeply most of my life, and lately I’ve begun to look at them altogether differently. I feel that perhaps I’ve been wrong in how I’ve judged some things and reacted to them … but then I’m not sure that what I’m thinking now is right either … or how far I should let these new thoughts take me.”

Cameron shifted his position and leaned back in his chair too, getting more comfortable. “Sounds interesting. Would I be safe in guessing it has something to do with the Lord or your family, or both?”

Lionel nodded his head. He took another deep breath and blew it out slowly.

Suzanne spoke then. “Hey, why don’t we go on into the living room and get comfortable. I’ll bring more coffee in there for us.”

“Yeah, let’s do,” Cameron said, and Suzanne hurried to the kitchen for the coffee pot while the two men made their way to the living room. It was a peaceful room, Lionel thought … obviously full of love and happiness. He felt comfortable here. But then that was one thing he’d always felt around Cameron.

“Okay,” Cameron said as he settled into his corner of the sofa and accepted his cup from Suzanne. “Now just take all the time you want and tell us anything you’d like to … and you can rest assured it won’t go any farther than this house if you don’t want it to.”

“Oh I’m not worried about that. I’m just careful who I talk to about this because I don’t want to depress others with so much of my life story and the problems I seem to have as a result of it. … But, as I say, I’ve begun to think differently lately. 

“… I think the root of all of it has to do with how I’ve always felt about my mother being such a faithful Christian and yet having to live such a life of poverty and pain and ill-treatment. I guess I’ve always blamed God for that, thinking that if He’d been as faithful to her as she said He was, He would have delivered her from the poverty, or from my father’s ill-treatment at least.”

He looked away from them, lost in his memories momentarily. Then he focused on the two of them again. “I guess I’ve never been able to reconcile myself to the idea of submitting myself to a God like that and serving Him. I actually tried to make myself believe what my mother used to tell me about God, but I just couldn’t make sense of the two seemingly opposite pictures.”

“I think I remember Darrin telling me that you two had only minimal time in church and Sunday School,” Cameron said now, “so you probably couldn’t have had enough teaching to really understand some of what was going on.”

Lionel nodded his head again. “I think that’s probably true … if what I’m thinking now is true. And most of what I’ve been thinking and feeling goes back to something Kana Wallace said to me recently. I had invited her to go for a game of miniature golf … just the two of us … and she turned me down, although she seemed to be sad about having to do it. Then she explained why.

“She told me that she had promised the Lord that she would never date any man who wasn’t a Christian. She said that although she knew one or two dates didn’t mean that two people were headed for the altar, there was always that possibility if they spent much time alone together. They could easily become more than just friends and end up wanting to share their whole life together. Rather than take a chance on that … and on someone getting hurt … she made that commitment to God, and she sticks by it.”

Cameron and Suzanne were nodding their heads. Cameron spoke then. “That’s a wise decision really, because when two people spend enough time together that their emotions become involved, a deeper relationship can blossom quickly.” 

Lionel nodded again. “I can understand that. And actually, that’s not what started this new train of thought, but something she added to that about a week later. We were talking about my parents. She had asked if they were both Christians, and I had told her about Mom being a believer, but Dad not believing in anything but himself and that he had made my mom’s life horrible. Her immediate response was that she could understand that happening … just as if it was the most natural thing in the world for it to turn out that way.”

“Actually, it is in most cases,” Cameron interjected.

“Yes … I realize the sense of that now. That conversation started me thinking that maybe my mother’s own choice to marry someone who wasn’t a believer was what had brought on the life she had to put up with. It had never occurred to me that she might have made some choices that were disobedient to God Himself. I know she told me she became a believer when she was seventeen, but I don’t know how strong she was. She said she was nineteen when she met my dad, and they married soon after they met.”

Lionel stopped short in his conversation, as if he wasn’t sure how much more to say. He was quiet for a moment, and Cameron and Suzanne just gave him time to think. Finally he took another deep breath and looked at them with resolution in his eyes as he began to speak again.

“I asked Kana to direct me to the scriptures that spoke about Christians not being married to unbelievers so that I could study them, and I’ve been doing that since Sunday. But two days ago I found something else that adds to the new picture I’ve been seeing.” He stopped again, thinking, weighing his choice of words. “Darrin and Eve asked me to see if I could find one or two things in my mom’s stuff that’s stored at my apartment, and as I was going through everything, I came across Mom and Dad’s wedding certificate.”

He paused again, his face shadowed by sadness and some kind of pain. He had looked down at the floor, but he looked back into Cameron’s eyes as he continued. “Their wedding day was the twelfth day of January … and I was born on July first of that same year.” His eyes looked intensely into Cameron’s, then flicked to Suzanne’s, and he recognized at once that both of them understood, but were not shocked by what he had said.

There was silence for a moment, and then Cameron spoke. “So you believe that your parents probably married because you were already on the way.”

“It would seem so.” Lionel shook his head, obviously still dealing with the bewildering thoughts that had plagued him for the last two days. “I honestly don’t know what to think anymore. If my mother was really a Christian, why did she let something like that happen? … And since she obviously did … did all of that account for her life being so bad … and for my own life being so bad at the same time?”

Cameron understood the complicated questions that Lee must have been dealing with, and he wanted to help him find the answers and the peace he needed. He prayed silently, as he had prayed out loud in his office right after making the appointment with Lee, for the Lord to give him the right words … His words.”

“Well … first of all, if you’re asking if all of what was bad in your life was a punishment from the Lord, absolutely not! The Word of God is very clear about that for the New Covenant man – the man or woman in Jesus Christ. They become God’s children, and the Lord loves His children and has compassion and mercy for them at all times. He doesn’t send punishment for the sin and the wrong choices, but He does tell us that often those choices and those sins bring their own evil results. It’s like planting seed in the ground. You get a harvest of the kind of seed you planted. And sometimes when we sin or we’re disobedient in any way, even though we ask forgiveness … and the Lord is quick to forgive us … still there can be repercussions that can’t be totally done away with. We just have to trust the Lord to help us get the victory over them.”

Lionel was looking at Cameron intently, soaking in all that he was saying. He nodded his understanding so far, and Cameron continued. “As far as your mother’s being a Christian and still conceiving a child out of wedlock … unfortunately, many young Christian girls who aren’t taught how to live by the Word – or who don’t have the strength and help of believing family and friends – can get caught in a situation that gets out of control. They give into the natural, physical and psychological pressures of this world and do the wrong thing.

“And actually, it seems to me, when we look at this whole picture, that since your mother found herself in that position, she made the other choices she did because she thought they would be the best for you and her both, and she used her faith and her relationship with God to make those decisions work out comparatively well. She raised you and Darrin to be honorable men, she was a good wife to your father, and from what you and Darrin have told me, it seems that the Lord did protect her and you boys from any serious physical harm, even though your dad got a little rough from time to time. Your mother was never seriously hurt physically, was she?”

Lionel shook his head. “I’m sure she was hurt when he hit her … but it’s true he never actually beat her or threw her out or anything like that. … I think it broke her heart more than it hurt her physically. … And, of course, I wanted to kill him for doing it, but she always made me promise not to ever use violence to try to solve anything.”

They were all quiet for a while, and then Suzanne spoke. “And from what Darrin has told us, she evidently really loved your father and saw some good in him.”

“She always said she did … although I never could see it … but then … I didn’t have the whole picture then either. … I’ve been thinking about that too the last couple of days. I guess the fact that he married her and even tried to help raise us means something … not a lot in my book … but something.”

Suzanne spoke again softly. “So … have you been rethinking your opinion of God this week as a result of all this?”

Lionel leaned his head back against the chair and closed his eyes, letting out a long breath. “I guess I have. … I have to admit it seems that He was taking better care of us than I gave Him credit for if all of this other stuff is true … and I know now that it is.”

He opened his eyes again and sat upright, looking at Cameron. “So you don’t believe that our painful life was the result of God’s punishment on Mom and Dad … or even on me?”

“Absolutely not, Lee, and I’ll give you a list of scripture passages that will make that quite clear to you when you study them.”

“You don’t believe there’s some kind of curse hanging over my head because of my illegitimacy?”

“No way. Even under the Old Covenant, Jesus said to the woman who was caught in adultery, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’ That event is recorded in what is labeled the New Testament in our current Bibles. But the event took place before Jesus’ death and resurrection, so those people were still operating under the Old Covenant. And we have a better covenant since He already died for all of us and all of our sin. … Do you understand his taking our place and paying the price for our sin by his crucifixion?”

“Yes … I understood what the Bible said about that even in Sunday School, and I thought I believed it at one time, but things just got so bad that I guess I let it go. But lately I’ve been reading those passages again too. … I guess I need some time to think about them … but I needed some of these questions cleared up first.” He looked at them with a new light in his eyes. It was small, but it was a start. “Thank you both. You’ve been a big help in sorting this stuff out.”

Cameron leaned forward in his seat. “I’m so glad, Lee. I know the Lord loves you very much, and He has a perfect plan for your life. … When you are ready to talk to Him about it, just be boldly honest with Him … He can take it. Get everything out in the open with Him, and He’ll have an easier time giving you everything He wants you to have from Him. I promise you it will be better than you’ve hoped for up to this point.”

Lionel smiled. “You know, I can almost believe that now. I just need to sort out my own feelings a little more.”

“Well, He’s ready when you are. He’s been waiting ever since you were conceived to have a personal, loving relationship with you. Will you allow us to pray with you that He’ll help you come to terms with everything else quickly and be able to receive all that He has for you?”

“Sure. Thank you.”

“And then I’ll write out a list of those scriptures I told you about for you to take home with you.”

“Great.”

Lionel felt encouraged and even excited by what Cameron prayed, as if he really were starting to expect something to happen between God and himself. He tucked the list of scripture passages in his pocket and left with a lighter heart than when he’d come. He knew everything wasn’t as it should be yet, but he felt that maybe … just maybe … he was beginning to move forward toward something that had been missing inside of him for almost as long as he could remember.

The following Sunday, Lionel was in church because all of the kids from the camp were doing a special program for the congregation, and Delly had a small speech to give. He still felt confused by some things in his life, and he knew he had a way to go before he was sure how he felt about the Lord, but he noticed that he did feel a certain freedom during the service that he hadn’t felt before. Some kind of barrier had come down during the last couple of weeks, and he was glad of that at least.

And he didn’t have to feel awkward about seeing Kana. He had finally written her a short note apologizing if he had offended her at all by what he had let happen in Gram’s back yard. The note explained that he had wanted only to comfort her, and he felt sure she would believe that.

So after the service, when Gram and Kana came up to his family, especially to congratulate Delly on her excellent job, Lionel smiled freely at Kana, hoping she would smile back. She did, and while the others talked to Delly, she spoke very quietly to him. “I got your card, Lee. Thank you … and I do understand. That night was so fraught with emotions of every kind, I think what happened probably was nothing out of the ordinary. Thank you for your help through that awful time.”

“I was glad I could be there.”

“Well … we’re supposed to eat with Maddison and Beth, so I guess we’d better get going. Are you ready, Gram?” Her grandmother hugged Delly, and started for the door with Kana.

Lionel followed his brother and family down the aisle and out the door, but he declined their invitation for lunch. He was troubled in his mind by one of the statements Kana had made: “Nothing out of the ordinary.” He pondered those words as he drove home, shaking his head from time to time in disbelief. Couldn’t she feel that what had happened was very much out of the ordinary? … Well … at least for him it was. He didn’t remember ever being drawn to comfort a girl with his kisses before … not a grown up girl. … And he’d felt as if he had been drawn into some kind of safe haven with that kiss.

But she’d called it ‘nothing out of the ordinary.’ Did she really feel that way? Or was she just saying that in order to stay true to the commitment she had made to the Lord? … Well, one thing was certain: He could no longer deny that he cared very deeply for Kana Wallace, and because he did, he would make sure that he never came between her and her God … no matter what it cost him.

~

Chapter Eleven

 

The next Friday Darrin and Eve were scheduled to help Maddison and Beth Holt with a campout Bible study for the teens, and Lee had made plans to take care of Delly again. He always looked forward to his weekend visits with her. She loved him unconditionally, and he freely gave himself to making her happy when she was with him. He had been thinking the past week about Delly’s love for him. It was the love of a trusting child, and what he’d been reading in the Bible lately indicated that it was just that kind of love that God was looking for from His people. Could Lionel give that kind of love … the kind he returned in his feelings for his niece … to God? He still wasn’t sure.

But he planned to enjoy his weekend with Delly. He had given her a choice for Friday night – going to a movie and eating out or renting a bunch of Andy Griffith Show tapes and having pizza. She had immediately chosen pizza and Andy Griffith, who was fast becoming one of her heroes, since she watched so many of his shows with her uncle. She didn’t have to obey any special bedtime rules when she spent the weekend with him, so they were still sitting in front of the TV eating ice cream at 9:00. As one program came to an end, Lionel glanced over at his niece and found her sound asleep, barely holding onto her bowl of ice cream, now melted down to milk.

He gently eased the bowl from her hands and lifted her into his arms as carefully as possible so as not to wake her. He was glad Eve had taught him early on to always have Delly put pajamas on by 8:00, even if there was no set bedtime. Inevitably, Delly fell asleep long before she planned to give up for the night. He carried her now into the guest bedroom, which was used almost exclusively by her and had a few of her own toys and stuffed animals in attendance. He had let her say her prayers when she prayed over their supper, so he felt no qualms about just letting her continue to sleep. He kissed her softly on her forehead, pulled the covers to her chin, and turned on the night-light, all without waking her.

He certainly wasn’t ready to turn in yet. He wandered into the kitchen, feeling unaccountably restless. He decided to make a pot of coffee. As he did so, he thought about Kana. He could almost see her sunny face, with its dusting of freckles. How was it he hadn’t thought her beautiful when he first met her? She was … and he knew now that one of the things that made her that way was the beauty inside. There was a purity and a joy that radiated from her … and peace as well. He didn’t understand it all, but he was willing to admit that it had to come from her relationship with God.

He’d wanted to talk with her again about some of the scriptures he’d been reading this week, but he knew her parents were visiting, and he didn’t want to interfere with that. She had worked hard for the church camp. She deserved some time just to rest and play a little. She’d be going back to school soon. He stopped short, sucking in a sharp breath. He was surprised at the jolt of disappointment he felt at the thought of her going back to Nashville for the rest of the year.

The coffee was done. Mmmm, it smelled good. He poured a cup and savored the flavor and the feel of it as it slid down his throat. There was something comforting about coffee. He didn’t know how far back that feeling went, or where it came from exactly, but he knew he experienced that feeling often when he was lonely or troubled. A cup of coffee just seemed to help. He’d like to be sitting with Kana, sharing a cup of coffee and just talking. He shook his head at himself. He had to get that woman off his mind.

Maybe Eve’s oatmeal cookies with the Macadamia nuts would help divert his thoughts. He always made it a point to have extra treats when Delly was staying with him, but Eve just couldn’t resist sending something special every time. He bit into one of the cookies now, one bite leading immediately to another until he’d devoured three large cookies. “Thanks, Evie,” he said out loud now, as he took two more from the can and refilled his coffee. He’d watch some more TV. Or maybe he’d read the Bible for a while again.

He hadn’t decided which he was going to do by the time he sat down, so he just munched cookies and gave his thoughts free reign. They drifted over childhood memories, interspersed with thoughts of Kana, and then drifted back to the spiritual questions he’d been dealing with this past two weeks. Somewhere in the midst of those meandering thoughts, he dozed off.

~

He jerked awake, his heart beating rapidly. Something – some alarming sound – had wakened him. What was it? He tried to get more awake and listen. There it was again … sobbing … a child sobbing … Delly! He sprang from the couch and ran to the bedroom, hitting the light switch as he entered. It turned on the light beside the bed, and he saw Delly sitting up sobbing. He sat on the side of the bed and gathered her into his arms.

“Sweetheart, I’m here. What is it, Honey. Do you hurt?”

She clutched him, sobbing too hard to speak. Finally she was able to choke out some words, but all she would say was, “Uncle Lee! Uncle Lee!” as she clutched him even tighter.

He smoothed her hair off of her wet face, trying to figure out if she were in pain. “Please, Sweetheart, tell me … do you hurt?”

At last, she seemed to understand that she needed to answer, but she still could hardly speak past the sobs. “N – n – no-o-o ….” She shook her head as she spoke, and he finally was reassured that she wasn’t hurting physically. “You had a bad dream then, huh?”

She nodded her head, starting to get quieter now, but still not speaking words. Lee shifted his position so that he could hold her more comfortably, thinking that if he just stayed with her and talked to her soothingly, she would be able to go back to sleep soon. “Do you want to tell me about it?”

She nodded her head again, quieted now to just sniffling. Lee reached over and pulled up two tissues and blotted her face and then held them to her nose. “Blow for me, and you’ll be able to breathe better, and we can talk.” Delly obediently blew her nose a couple of times, but she was still trembling, so Lee hugged her close again, rocking back and forth a little to help soothe her.

“Would you like some warm milk, Honey,” he asked in comforting tones, but Delly shook her head and just huddled closer to him, whimpering now, but still trembling. Lee decided to just sit quietly and give her time. Finally after a couple more minutes had passed, he felt her begin to relax. “Do you want to tell me about your dream, Honey, or would you rather not talk about it?”

She sat up a little and looked at Lionel, her face serious, her eyes big. “I saw this beautiful light, and it got bigger and bigger, and then I could see that it was part of a big city … it was so bright, and it glowed … and there was this beautiful music coming from it …. Mommy and Daddy were there with me.” She hiccupped and sniffled again between her words. “And … and I looked at Daddy, and I said, ‘What is it, Daddy?’” She hiccupped again. “And Daddy said, ‘Honey, Jesus is calling us. It’s time to go to Heaven. Take mine and Mommy’s hand. We’re all going now!’”

She let out a single sob, and her eyes filled with tears again. “And I said, ‘But where’s Uncle Lee? He has to go too.’ ” Huge tears rolled down her cheeks again, and she let out another sob. “And …” She tried to gulp down her sobs. “And Daddy said, ‘I don’t know where Uncle Lee is.’ And we all looked and looked for you, but you weren’t there. … You weren’t anywhere!” She couldn’t stem the flow of tears any longer, and by this time Lee’s heart was breaking for her.

“Delly … Honey … look at me,” he said and took another tissue to blot at her face. “Listen to me, Delly … it was only a dream. It wasn’t real.”

She shook her head. “No … no … it was so real. And I said ‘Uncle Lee has to go with us to Heaven,’ and then Daddy said, ‘I guess he just didn’t decide to go, Delly.’ ” She looked at him now with her big blue, pleading eyes, full and running over again. “Please, Uncle Lee! Please! You have to decide to go to Heaven with us!” Her sobs were almost uncontrollable again, and Lee held her as tightly as he could without hurting her. His own eyes were full and running over too. He was broken …. He had no more defenses against the truth, and he knew it was time to get completely honest with himself and with God.

He pulled away from Delly enough to look into her eyes, wiping them once more with a tissue. “Listen, Sweetheart, I’ve been thinking a lot about going to Heaven lately.”

Delly looked up at him, her eyes growing wider. “You have? … Really, Uncle Lee?”

“Yes, dear, really and truly.”

“And did you ask Jesus into your heart so you can go?” She seemed to have the tears more under control now.

“Not yet … but I’m planning on it.”

“When, Uncle Lee? Now?”

“I’ll tell you what. If you’ll promise to settle down and go back to sleep, I’ll go into my bedroom and have a long talk with Jesus right now. How does that sound to you?”

Delly hugged him as hard as her little arms could manage. “Oh yes, Uncle Lee. You really mean it? … Right now?”

Lee grinned at his niece, whose countenance glowed with joy now, almost all of the tears gone. “Right now! I think I’ve fought the Lord long enough.” He kissed Delly’s cheek. “Thank you, Sweetheart, for not wanting your stubborn old uncle to be stuck without a way to get to Heaven. Thank you for praying for me. It’s helped me a lot. Do you think you can sleep now, as long as you know that I’m going to be talking to Jesus while you’re sleeping?”

“Uh-huh,” Delly said, nodding her head vigorously. She heaved a sigh and finally smiled at Lee, reaching up to hug him around the neck. “I love you, Uncle Lee.”

“I love you too, Honey, and I don’t want you to worry any more, Okay?”

“Okay,” she said, grinning now. “You can tell me about your prayer in the morning.”

Lee tucked her blanket around her again and planted one more kiss on her forehead. “I’ll do just that. Goodnight, Sweetie.”

“Night.”

Lionel turned out her light and started down the hallway. He walked slowly and thoughtfully into his bedroom and knelt down beside his bed. He knew that wasn’t necessary, but it was the only place he remembered praying when he used to think it might make a difference. He bowed his head and closed his eyes. Then he cleared his throat a couple of times.

“Well, God . . .” He cleared his throat again. “It’s been a long time … years now.” He sighed wearily. “I guess I’ve broken my promise to Mom a few thousand nights during those years. … But … well … I’m willing to try again if You are.

“Cameron suggested that I just need to be bold-faced honest with You, so that’s what I’m going to do. I wouldn’t know how to talk to You any other way anyway. You know I’ve been holding a terrible grudge against You for the way my mom had to live even though she served You every day that I knew her. … But I realize now that a lot of what she lived with was by her own choosing. And even as bad as it was, she wanted to stay with dad and us boys. … And Cameron’s right when he says that You did keep all three of us from any serious physical harm, in spite of everything. I guess I should have been thanking You for that before now. … Will You forgive me for blaming You, and for trying to live my life without You all these years?” He was silent for a while, but he realized that, somehow, he knew He was forgiven.

“Of course, You know I’ve really been trying to convince myself You didn’t exist, but I’m not really that big a fool. I know You’re there. … Cameron believes that You’ve been waiting every night for me to come back to You in prayer, like I promised Mom I’d do. I wonder if that’s true.” … He heaved another sigh, and raised his head, opening his eyes and looking up. I know I’m rambling, Lord. It’s because I’m afraid to ask You for the one thing I really got down here to ask for.”

Tears began to course down his cheeks now, and the anguish he felt in his heart showed up in his voice. “Jesus . . .” He spoke the name louder. “Jesus! … Will You come to me and help me really know You the way my Mom did … the way Cameron does … and Kana?” There was a longer pause. “The way Delly does. … That little girl loves You so much.”

He was truly crying now. “And I’m not praying for this just because of feelings I have for Kana, Lord. I’m not trying to do this to further my relationship with her. I know she can’t really fill that big empty place in me that’s been there ever since Mom died and I turned my back on You. I need You to fill it, Jesus.

“I’m so sorry I’ve waited so long to tell You.” He was speaking through sobs now. “Forgive me, Lord … forgive me for rejecting You. … Forgive me for every stiff-necked, rebellious, evil thing I’ve ever done. … Please forgive me!”

After several more minutes, his sobs subsided, but he remained on his knees. “I don’t know what to do, Lord, but I remember Your Word says You’re standing at the door of my heart and knocking. So I’m going to open that door to You just the same way I opened the office door to Jimmy that morning last month when he was needing help. It seems too easy, but I’m going to open the door to You, Jesus, and I ask You to come into my heart and take control of me.”

Even as he spoke the words, a peace too rich to describe began to settle over him like a mantel. Then it was soaking into every fiber of his being. He recognized a sweet presence right there with him. It was nothing he could see or touch, but it was real, nevertheless. The next thing he knew he was laughing – laughing right out loud – as joy like he’d never experienced rolled through his insides.

His hands went up into the air. “Thank You, Jesus!” He shouted. “Thank You, Lord Jesus!” Tears continued to roll down his cheeks even as the laughter engulfed him. He just couldn’t stop saying the name of Jesus and praising Him for this new life that was so obviously coursing through him right now.

Finally, after several minutes, Lionel realized that he was getting pretty loud and wondered if he had wakened Delly. Oh, well, even if he had, what she heard him saying would make her happy and relieve her little heart. Lionel’s heart swelled again at the thought of how much that little girl had loved him and prayed for him. The faith of a little child is so precious, he thought. “Lord,” he prayed again now, “please keep my heart as tender as a little child’s before You now that it’s in Your control. I don’t ever want to turn cold or hard toward You again as long as I live. Please help me to learn quickly what You want from me and to give it, Father.”

Lionel stopped abruptly at that word father. Surprise stunned him when he realized he had spoken the name so effortlessly to the God of the universe. He hadn’t even had to wonder if it was all right to call Him that. He’d just felt the relationship so profoundly that the endearing name had just slipped out. He knelt there amazed at the fact that he actually felt like a child of God. And considering the fact that, as a result of his past home life, the word father didn’t hold any good connotations for him, he realized that even his way of thinking about that was being changed right then and there.

Lionel finally raised himself up enough to sit on the side of the bed. He was still full of wonder at everything that had happened since he’d entered this room. He looked at his watch. Just thirty minutes ago. Amazing! In thirty short minutes his whole life had been changed for eternity. He knew that was true, because now that he had become one with the author of the Bible, many of the verses he’d read and studied as a child were coming alive to him in his heart, their meaning becoming clear to him where they had seemed foggy before.

He shook his head in amazement and stretched out on top of his bed, clasping his hands behind his head. He just lay there with a smile on his face, thinking about how good he felt. He kept thinking back over other verses he’d read and many his mother had taught him about. They all seemed so alive now. They said things to him personally.

He glanced at his watch again. He’d like to be able to tell someone about what had just happened to him, but it was after 11:30. Darrin would have welcomed his call at any time of night if he’d been home, but he and Eve were at the campout. He certainly couldn’t call Kana at this time of night. Cameron might still be up, but it wasn’t an emergency, and if he had gone to bed, Lionel wanted to let him rest. He certainly worked hard enough taking care of other people’s needs when he was awake. He deserved all the rest he could get.

The answering machine! That was it. He’d call the church and leave a message on Cameron’s answering machine, and he’d get it first thing in the morning. He sat up and reached for the phone by his bed. At least this would give him a chance to talk out loud about what the Lord had just done for him. He punched the number for Cameron’s extension, and when he heard the beep he spoke excitedly. “Cameron, this is Lee Butler, and I’m calling to give you a good report. It’s after 11:30 at night, so I didn’t want to wake you at home. I just gave my heart to the Lord, and He’s accepted me. I feel so alive I can hardly put it into words, but I’m sure you know what I mean. I wanted you to be one of the first to know. Thanks for all your prayers and support. Bye.”

Lee laughed out loud again as he hung up. “That was great, Lord! Who else can I tell? …I know … I can leave a message on Darrin’s machine too. They won’t be back until Sunday evening, but at least they’ll know as soon as they get home.” He dialed.

“Hello, Darrin. This is your big brother, who decided tonight that he’s been stupid long enough and finally turned his life over to the Lord. That’s right. I know you’re in shock about now, but it’s the truth. I gave my heart to Jesus tonight, and I feel true peace for the first time in my whole life. Thank you for all your prayers, Little Brother. I know they’ve made a big difference in how all of this turned out. See you when you get back.”

As he hung up, he felt as if he had completed something. He felt almost as if he’d sealed the whole event by telling about it. It was an invigorating feeling. One he wanted to have again and again. That meant he’d need to tell a lot of people about what God had done for him. Well, that wouldn’t be hard the way he felt now.

Too energized to sleep, he decided to go back into the living room and read his Bible for a while. As he opened his Bible, he decided to start at the beginning of the New Testament. Even the genealogy in Matthew didn’t bore him tonight. Every word on the pages seemed precious to him, and he felt an excitement about what he was going to learn as he read. And read he did, until he had finished the book of Matthew, and closed his Bible, feeling as if he truly knew Jesus Christ as he had never thought anyone could know Him.

Peace was in control of everything about him right now, and he decided it was time to get some sleep. If he knew Delly, she’d be up not too long after the sun, wanting to know all about his talk with Jesus. So he turned out the lights and returned to his bedroom. As his eyes came to rest on the bed, a sense of joy spread through him anew at his remembrance of what had taken place as he had knelt beside it a few hours earlier.

As he lay down and closed his eyes, he whispered, “Good night, Lord Jesus. I love you.” And with those words, he fell into the most restful sleep he’d ever experienced in his life.

~

Chapter Twelve

Lionel was the one who woke as soon as the sun peeked through the window. And as soon as he had opened his eyes, he knew his experience last night had been real. He sat up in bed and took a deep breath, smiling to himself.

“Thank You, Lord,” he said looking upward. “Thank You for making me Your son. It feels so good.” With that, he hopped out of bed and threw on his customary jeans and polo shirt. He was a little surprised he hadn’t already heard from Delly, but he figured the night before had probably worn her out. Amazingly, he felt thoroughly rested, even though there hadn’t been much sleeping time left when he’d finally lain down.

Sure enough, when he peeked in, he found Delly snoozing comfortably, cuddled up to her blue teddy bear. Good. She needed the rest, and it was only 6:00. He moved quietly though the house and began to make coffee and English muffins for himself, humming softly as he did so. He was in the middle of his second muffin with cream cheese and strawberry jam when Delly came running in, her cheeks still rosy from sleep and her hair tousled every which way.

“Uncle Lee!” she ran to him, her eyes bright with expectation. “Did you do it? Did you talk to Jesus?”

Lee reached out and lifted her onto his lap, grinning broadly. “I certainly did, Honey. And I gave Him my whole life, and now I belong to Him just like you do.”

“Oh, Uncle Lee!” Delly squealed, grabbing him in a hug that threatened to choke him. But he endured it, for the pure pleasure of knowing Delly was so happy over what he’d done. “Now when it’s really time to go to Heaven, we can all go.”

Uncle and niece beamed at each other. “We can all go,” Lionel repeated, kissing her on the nose. “Now, how about some breakfast?”

Delly got down and climbed into her chair, declaring, “I’ll have some muffins too. Do you have grape juice?”

“I think so, but I haven’t opened it yet. Let me check the fridge. Do you want some hot chocolate too?”

“No, just milk, please, and two muffins with cheese and jam, just like yours.”

“You’ve got it, Princess.”

Delly giggled. “Just wait ‘till Mommy and Daddy hear that you belong to Jesus now. I wish we could tell them today.”

“I know, but I did call and leave a message on their answering machine, so they’ll know as soon as they get home. And I called the church and left a message for Pastor McDaniels too. How’s that?”

“Good.”

“Here’s your juice,” he said, setting her glass in front of her on the table. “And do you want to put your own cheese on your muffin, or do you want me to do it?”

“I want to please. Mmmmm, this is good juice. Thank you,” she said as he sat a plate in front of her with two muffins on it and handed her the cream cheese.

In the midst of piling the cheese and jam onto her first muffin, Delly looked up, her eyes wide. “Oh … we have to tell Gram Nora! She prays for you all the time.”

“Yes, I want to tell her and Kana too, but they have special company right now, you know, and I don’t want to interrupt their visit.”

“Oh but Gram will feel bad if we don’t tell her right away.”

Lionel looked at Delly thoughtfully. He knew he sure wanted to tell Kana what had happened to him as soon as possible. Maybe Delly was right. Maybe they would consider this important enough that they wouldn’t feel he was intruding on their company. Besides, he could just call them and not take up too much time. Although … he’d like to be able to see Kana’s face when he told her. Somehow, that was very important to him.

He sent up a silent prayer. “Lord, please show me what to do. You know I feel like I want to tell the world. But especially these two people. How should I go about it? Will You make a way to do it right?” He was still surprised at how easily he could talk to the Father God. As if he had always belonged to Him. It was amazing, this sense of being loved so much, in spite of himself.

When Delly was finished, she went to her room to dress while Lionel straightened the kitchen. They had planned to do some grocery shopping this morning and then go horse back riding this afternoon. But he wanted them to spend some time reading the Bible first, so as soon as Delly was dressed, they went out onto his deck and prayed together and read whatever verses Delly wanted them to read. She was so happy that Lionel could hardly contain his own happiness at seeing what his surrender to the Lord had done for his niece.

About 9:00 the phone rang, and when he answered, it was Grandma Nora. “Hello, Lee. How’s your and Delly’s weekend going?”

“Really great. As a matter of fact, we’ve been talking about you this morning, because we have some news we want to share with you, but didn’t want to disturb your visit with the rest of your family.”

“Well, now that’s a coincidence, because I’m calling to invite you and Delly over for a picnic in the back yard about noon. My daughter and son-in-law already know Delly, of course, and they’d like to see her again and meet you. We’re just going to have hot dogs and potato salad, and we’ve got a giant watermelon that needs a whole lot more than four people to eat it. Do you and Delly have important plans, or could you come?”

“We had planned to go horse-back riding this afternoon, but I suppose we could do that later. It will be light until at least 8:00. Let me see what Delly has to say, although I think I know what her answer will be,” he said chuckling. He turned to Delly, who was all ears, knowing something was being planned with Gram Nora. “Do you want to go to Grandma Nora’s for a picnic for lunch today?” he asked her.

“Yes! Yes!” she squealed, jumping up and down, “and then we can tell everybody!”

He returned his attention to the phone, laughing. “I guess you heard that her answer was in the affirmative.”

Gram was laughing on the other end. “I heard. That’s great, and did you say you had some good news to tell us?”

“Yes … very good news. But I think we’ll wait until we see you.”

“Okay. I’m looking forward to it. Come about 11:30 if you can.”

“We’ll be there. Can I bring anything? Dessert maybe?”

“No, no. Watermelon will be dessert. Just bring yourselves.”

“Okay, see you then. Bye, and thanks.”

About two hours later, after they had hurried through buying groceries and getting everything put away at the apartment, Lionel and Delly stood on Gram Nora’s porch ringing her doorbell. Delly could hardly hold still, as she stood holding Lionel’s hand, and when Gram opened the door, the sight that met her quickened her heartbeat from pure joy. The two people standing on her porch were grinning at her from beaming faces, and Delly was bouncing up and down on her toes with excitement.

“Well, look at you two!” Gram said. “You’re the picture of joy if there ever was one. Come on in and tell me about this good news.”

They stepped through the door, and Delly couldn’t contain herself any longer. Although she wanted to let her uncle tell his own testimony, she just had to say something. “Wait ‘till you hear, Gram! Wait till you hear!” She pulled up and down on Lionel’s hand, and he couldn’t help laughing out loud.

“I think I may be able to guess,” Gram said now, “ and I hope I’m right, Lee.”

He looked right into Gram’s eyes. “I gave my life to the Lord last night, Gram, and I really am a new person.”

Grandma Nora grabbed him and hugged him tightly, tears trickling from her eyes. Then she pulled back and looked at Lionel again. “I’m so very glad, Lee! I’ve prayed for you so much, you know.”

“I do know, Gram. And I’m very grateful. I’m grateful for all of you who prayed and refused to give up on me.” He reached down and ruffled Delly’s curls. “Especially this little squirt.”

Delly grinned, and Gram leaned down to hug her too. “Isn’t it the most wonderful answer to prayer, Delly? I can’t wait until your mommy and daddy hear the news.”

“Uncle Lee left a message on our answering machine so they’ll know just as soon as they come home. And on Pastor McDaniels’ machine too, and he called back while we were at the store.”

“Oh, did you get to talk with him then, Lee?” Gram asked him.

“Unfortunately, no. He left a message that he was thrilled with the news, but he had an unexpected appointment to take care of this morning, so he wasn’t available for me to call him back. I’ll try to talk to him later. He sounded excited for me though.”

“I’m sure he is, to say the least! Well come on out to the back yard. That’s where everybody else is, and you can tell the rest of the family. It’ll make their day to know there’s another member added to the Lord’s family.”

They all trouped out to the back, where Kana’s father was standing over the barbecue grill turning hot dogs, and Kana and her mother were setting out paper plates and cups. Kana looked up as they came out the door and smiled brightly. “Good morning, you two. Glad you could come.”

Kana’s mother stooped down and held out her arms toward Delly. “Delly, you get prettier every time I see you. And I hear you had a very important birthday recently.” By that time Delly had run into her arms to get a hug.

“Yeah, I’m six now!”

“And just in time to start first grade,” Kana’s mom answered, releasing Delly and grinning at her. Then she looked up to see Lionel, who had walked up to them. By that time Kana had stepped beside Lionel and began to make introductions.

“Mom, this is Lee Butler, Darrin’s brother. Lee, my mom, Ellen.”

“I’m so glad to meet you, Lee. Kana’s father and I have become friends with Darrin and Eve during our frequent visits, and we love them.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Wallace. That’s good to hear.”

“Oh, please, call me Ellen. And my husband, who’s doing grill duty over there is Dave.” At those words, Kana’s father lifted his grilling fork in a salute, grinning.

Lionel walked over to Kana’s father and extended his hand, which Dave shook enthusiastically. “Very good to meet you, Lee. Little Delly talks about her Uncle Lee a lot, and now we have a face to put with all the good stories we hear.”

“Wow, I didn’t know she told stories about me. I’d better watch my step when I’m around her, or there’s no telling what she might tell.”

“Well they’re all good, and most of the time funny. You can tell she always has a good time with you.”

Kana claimed Lionel’s attention again now. She could see that there was definitely something different about Lionel, but it wasn’t anything she could put her finger on. She was anxious to hear his news. “Gram tells us you and Delly have some good news to share.”

Lionel nodded his head, his face growing serious as he looked right into Kana’s eyes. She returned the look intently. He had always been able to capture her attention with a look. He smiled slightly now, and unconsciously reached out and took her hand gently. “I want to thank you, Kana for all that you’ve shared with me about your faith and your commitment to the Lord. I finally came to my senses about it all this week, and last night I surrendered my life to the Lord.”

Kana reached out without thinking and grabbed his other hand too, squeezing it tightly. “Oh, Lee! That’s wonderful! Praise God!”

Kana’s mom and dad came rushing to them from either side. Her mother spoke first. “That is wonderful news, Lee.”

“I’ll say,” Dave added, reaching out to shake his hand again in congratulations. Only then did Lionel and Kana realize that they had been holding onto each other so tightly. Lionel released her hands and took Dave’s.

Her mother spoke up again then. “I’m sure your brother and sister-in-law will be thrilled.”

“Yeah, Uncle Lee left them a message on our answering machine.” Delly said. “And I was there at Uncle Lee’s last night. He told me he was going to pray and ask Jesus into his heart while I was sleeping, and he did. And I was the first one to know!”

Kana reached down to hug the little girl. “Oh, Delly, honey, how wonderful!”

“Well,” Dave interrupted, “I think we need to celebrate. Unfortunately we have only hot dogs and potato salad to offer. Will that do?”

“Sounds great,” Lionel said and they all gathered at the picnic table.

While they ate watermelon, Dave asked Lionel about how the business was going and gradually drew him out concerning other things about his life. He didn’t want to sound nosy, but he did want to get to know this young man much better, because he could see that his daughter lit up a little more than usual when he came on the scene.

And earlier she had been holding onto Lionel’s hand as tightly as he had held onto hers. If he didn’t miss his guess, there was something developing here. But evidently, his little girl had managed to guard herself against anything serious while Lee wasn’t a believer.

Now that he had surrendered to the Lord, though, this might really be the start of something serious, and he wanted to know as much as possible. He was anxious to talk to Ellen and see what she thought about Kana’s reaction to Lionel Butler.

During their conversation, Lionel brought up the plane accident. “It’s good to see you’re not suffering any ill effects from the accident a couple of weeks ago.”

“It feels good to me too, let me tell you. That whole situation was a miracle. We had an excellent pilot, but I don’t think even he could have executed such a good landing in the spot we had to set down … not without some supernatural help. And the fact that they located us at all that same day had to be an answer to prayer.”

He reached out and put his arm around his wife’s shoulders as she sat beside him at the table. “This little woman is a strong woman of faith. I knew she’d be standing firm on the Lord’s Word for my safe return. And I was just as sure that she’d have my daughter and mother-in-law doing the same … along with many others.” He leaned down and kissed his wife gently on the lips. “I’ve been able to count on her for thirty-five years now … and I’m planning on at least another thirty-five … if she doesn’t get tired of me,” he said with a teasing light in his eyes just for Ellen.

Lionel felt a surge of jealousy, all of a sudden – a sense of longing with everything in him to have that kind of love and union with a woman who would make him feel the way Dave did. He sighed quietly. Well … now that he belonged to the Lord, maybe He would work something out. But on the heels of that thought came the realization that he was still the son of Isaac Butler, and as such, he had most likely inherited negative character traits and tendencies that would make him a poor risk as a husband and father. Darrin hadn’t, but, somehow, Lionel, having been the firstborn, and having seemingly carried the brunt of those characteristics during their growing up years, almost expected to find them showing up in himself should he ever be in that situation. No … it was better to just go on alone and not take a chance on hurting anybody else.

These thoughts had consumed him while the conversation had drifted all around him, but Kana had noticed the shadowed, brooding look on his face for the last several minutes. Something serious was still bothering Lee. Maybe she could help, but she needed to be careful not to press her way into his private life too far. He was a believer now, but she still wasn’t sure her heart was ready to deal with the feelings he already stirred up in her.

She needed to call Vallie. At that thought, she was so excited to be able to tell her best friend about Lee’s giving his heart to the Lord that she could hardly wait to find a time to call. She came out of her private thoughts, though, when she heard Delly asking Lee a question.

“Uncle Lee, can Kana go horse back riding with us … please?”

Lionel looked at Kana, surprise on his face, and then grinned. At least she wouldn’t have to turn them down because he was a heathen any more. But he knew she wanted time with her parents. “Honey, Kana has important company today. She can go another time.”

“Oh …” Delly’s lip drooped a little, but she remembered her manners. “I’m sorry,” she said, turning to Kana now. “I just wanted you to go and celebrate with us.”

“Oh, sweetheart, thank you.”

“Well, don’t refuse an afternoon of riding just because we’re here, dear,” her mother said. “We have several more days, and we have enough catching up with mom to do for us not to miss you too much this afternoon. So if you’d like to go ….” Ellen knew her daughter did want to go, and since she was growing to like Lee Butler herself more every minute, she wanted to encourage Kana in this friendship.

“Sure,” her dad said. “Go ahead. We’ll be right here when you get back.”

“Well …” Kana said now, looking up at Lionel.

“We’d both really like to take you with us if you’d like to come,” he said, smiling that contagious smile of his.

“Please, Kana … please, please!” Delly said, squeezing her hand.

“Okay,” Kana finally answered, laughing. “Majority vote wins. I’m coming with you.”

“Yay!” Delly shouted, jumping up and down.

“Just let me put on some sturdier jeans,” Kana said, rising from the table. “I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

~

Chapter 13

Kana had returned from riding in time to go out with her parents and grandmother for dinner. Ellen and Dave had asked several questions about her afternoon, hoping to get a better idea of exactly how Kana felt about Lee. They were both hoping for some details before they went back to Atlanta on Wednesday.

It was obvious that Kana enjoyed Delly, and that she had enjoyed her afternoon immensely, but she had managed to avoid any comments that gave away her feelings for Lionel personally. In truth, her mind had been occupied with trying to decide whether she should call Vallie when she got home. Since she had left her parents for the whole afternoon, she didn’t want to be on the phone for another hour, ignoring them. But she still hadn’t decided what to do when they walked into the house and found the answering machine blinking. The message was from Vallie, and Kana breathed a “Thank You” to God and went to her room to return the call.

“Well, how did it go?” was her first question when Valentina answered the phone.

“Veronica and Steve are securely united in holy matrimony and have embarked on their honeymoon, and Mom and I are still alive to tell about it,” she said, laughing.

“Was it a madhouse at the last minute?”

“I think that pretty well describes it, but by that time Veronica just wanted to get on with it, and she didn’t seem upset by any of the little problems that had had her in tears last week.”

Kana chuckled. “That’s great. Did all of the relatives show up that you were expecting?”

“Yep … plus some we weren’t expecting, but it didn’t matter. Everybody had a great time, and some of them left that same evening, so we only have three staying over for a couple more days. Mom’s exhausted, as you might expect, but she seems happy with how everything went. Oh … she did say, ‘Now, Vallie, honey, you know that I can’t go through this again any time soon, so you just take your time finding your Mr. Right.’ I told her about the last conversation I’d had with you, and how you had warned me that she would feel that way. She got a kick out of that.

“Besides I assured her that I wasn’t in a hurry, because I was more interested in what was going on in your love life. That got her interested, of course, so I filled her in, as far as I knew the facts. She said she’d be praying for you too. So… how are things?”

“Well I do have some pretty exciting news on that subject. Lee Butler gave his heart to the Lord yesterday.”

“Really! Kana, that’s wonderful! Then you don’t have anything else to worry about, do you?”

“Well … I … I don’t know, Vallie. I’m still not sure where all that decision will lead him in his personal walk with the Lord, and after all, I have only another three weeks here before I have to get back to Nashville and get things ready to start school. I doubt that we would be able to develop a serious relationship in that time. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I’d want to do that and then have to leave.”

“Hmmmm.”

Kana let out a long sigh. “I don’t know. I think if this were something the Lord were in, the timing would have worked out differently. But I’m so glad he’s at least become a believer. He is such a sweet man and has so much to give to people. The Lord will be able to use him in a lot of ways. And Delly is just head over heels with joy at the whole thing. She had been praying so fervently.”

“Well … the faith of a child is pretty powerful.”

“You can say that again. I was just amazed at how quickly the children at camp picked up the things we taught them and just believed them and put them into practice. I loved every minute of being able to tell them about the Lord. I wish I could do that with all my students. Of course, I pray for them, as you do, but it just isn’t the same.”

“You’re back to considering what it would be like to teach in a Christian school, aren’t you, you stinker?”

“Well, it does cross my mind once in a while. I’ve even thought about contacting one or two when I get home and checking to see if they have any openings.”

“Oh, Kana, I couldn’t bear to lose you as my neighbor in the next classroom. You wouldn’t really desert me, would you?”

“Oh, Vallie, we’d still be friends and do things together, silly. Besides, if I found a position and liked it, you might decide to do the same thing.”

“Well, now that might be all right. We’ll pray about it. But you wouldn’t try to make a change this year would you? The time’s getting short?”

“No, probably not, but I do think it’s something the Lord’s been talking to me about, and I want to give the idea some serious consideration before I just push it aside.”

“Okay, I’ll do some serious praying with you.”

“Thanks, friend.”

“So … have you been out with Cade anymore?”

“No. He did call once, but I had already made plans with some of the singles from church for that night, so I had to turn him down. He said he’d call again, but I told him that my parents would be here for the week, and I wouldn’t plan anything else on those days. By the way, Mom said before we hang up, she wants to say ‘hi’ to you.”

“Good, I’d like to talk to her too. Your dad’s not suffering any ill effects from the accident, is he?”

“No, he’s fine. I don’t think it bothered him as much as it did the rest of us, except that he was worried that we would be terribly upset by it. God was really good to us, Vallie. And … I didn’t tell you … but I was surprised at how much comfort Lee was. He stayed right here the whole afternoon and evening until we heard from dad.”

“Wow … Kana … why didn’t you tell me that before?”

“Oh … I don’t know …” Her words drifted away as she remembered the kiss and the feel of Lee’s arms around her.

“Kana … what are you not telling me?”

Kana laughed. She and this best friend the Lord had given her knew each other so well, they could practically read each other’s minds. She needed to be careful if she were going to keep anything secret. But, then, did she want to? She could trust Vallie’s heart and her wisdom. Maybe she needed to tell her everything.

“Well … it’s only that during part of that evening … when Lee was trying to comfort me the most … well …

“W-e-l-l-l?”

“W-e-l-l-l ….” There was a long pause.

“He kissed you!”

Kana let out a deep sigh. “And … I … I kissed him back.”

“And ….”

Kana breathed out another sigh as she said, “Wow!”

Wow?

“Yeah, wow.”

“As in, I’ve never experienced anything like this before?”

“Exactly.”

“Wow!”

Kana laughed out loud, but then became serious again. “Oh, Val … I would never have believed that I would have let myself kiss a man who wasn’t a believer, but right then … Lee was just so sweet and comforting … and I needed that comfort … and it just seemed the most natural thing in the world to move into his arms. Then … the next thing I knew, he was pressing these tender little kisses into my hair, and then on my cheeks where the tears were … and then … it just happened.”

“Wow,” Vallie whispered on the other end of the phone.

Kana cleared the huskiness out of her throat. “And then he sent me a note telling me that he apologized if he had offended me. He said he had only meant to comfort me, and he hoped I could believe that. And I do. I could tell. So I told him that I understood that all of our emotions were out of control that night, and that it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Boy, was that a lie!”

“And you’re still trying to tell me you’re not sure if you have serious feelings for this guy?”

“I guess I’m thoroughly confused right now. But at least I’m not tortured by feeling guilty for having feelings for someone who’s unsaved. I would have had to avoid him for the rest of my stay, if things hadn’t turned out the way they did yesterday. But you can tell just by looking at him … and talking to him, of course … that his commitment to Jesus is definitely very real. I’m so happy for him. Thank you for praying for him too, Vallie.”

“Oh, it was my pleasure; you know that. Now, at least I can concentrate on praying about the relationship between the two of you, knowing that at least he’s in the Lord’s family. That makes it a lot easier.”

They talked for a while then about Vallie’s family, and finally she said, “Listen, we’ve been on almost an hour. Your mom and dad want to spend time with you.”

“Yeah, I need to get back to them, I guess.”

“Boy, I’d sure like to work something out to be able to get down there for even a couple of days and meet this man, though.”

Could you?”

“I don’t know. Mom was really counting on us spending quite a bit of time together after the wedding. I’ll see, though. I’ll get back to you in a couple of days.”

“Great. Hang on, and I’ll take the phone to Mom.”

After they finished their conversation with Vallie, they all decided to play a couple games of Password before they turned in. As Kana prepared for bed, she thought about church the next morning. Undoubtedly, Lee would be there, this time as a real part of the body of believers. All of a sudden she was overwhelmed with gratitude, and knelt down beside her bed to pour out her love and thanks to the Lord for what He had done in Lee Butler’s life.

The next morning, she and her family met the Butlers as they were all entering the front door together. They were all smiles, and Eve ran over and hugged Gram. “I guess you’re about as excited as we are at the news. Lee told us he shared everything with you yesterday. I can’t tell you how we felt when we got that message on our machine.” She pitched her voice to almost a whisper to Gram, but Kana could overhear the words. “Darrin just wept openly, and fell on his knees praising God. I don’t remember a time when I’ve seen him so completely engulfed in joy as he was last night at that news from Lee.”

“I can just imagine, Eve. I felt almost that much joy myself. And Delly … I don’t think I could describe her excitement.”

“I know,” Eve said, smiling over at her daughter, who was busy telling her uncle something as she held his hand.

About that time, Cameron came down the aisle and grasped Lee’s hand. “Welcome to the family, Lee. I’m so sorry we kept missing each other on the phone, but I can tell you that your news absolutely made my day, Brother. Now, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I want to ask you if you want to share anything about your experience with the congregation.”

Lee thought for just a moment and then answered, smiling broadly. “If there’s time in the service, I would like to thank everyone for all their prayers and faith for me for these last several years.”

“Hey, we’ll make time for that. They’ll be thrilled. And that’s important, Lee. It helps people so much to be able to see the results of their prayers. I appreciate your being willing to share that with them. I’ll call on you to do that right after worship then.”

“Fine,” Lionel said, glancing down at Delly. She beamed up at him and then at Cameron, who reached down and tweaked her cheek. “We got our answers, didn’t we, Sweetheart?”

“Unhuh!” she answered, leaning her head onto Lionel’s arm.

Cameron turned to Darrin next and grasped his hand, looking him in the eyes, which were filling with tears right then. The two men just looked at each other, Darrin knowing that his pastor understood the depth of what Lee’s new commitment meant to his brother. Cameron’s own eyes filled with tears then, and he whispered to Darrin. “God’s been faithful to us.”

Darrin nodded his head, pressing his other hand on Cameron’s shoulders, too full to speak right then. So Cameron moved on and shook hands with the rest of the family and some other members who had also arrived a little early, and in a few moments, the worship team had moved to the platform to begin the service.

As soon as worship came to a close, Cameron got up and announced that they had a special treat in today’s service, and asked Lionel if he would come up. He walked to the front of the church and looked out over the congregation, his special smile wide and infectious. “I’d like to tell you all that I turned my life over to Jesus Christ this past week, and …“

He was interrupted by loud applause from the congregation and several members calling out “Praise the Lord!” He waited until the celebration had subsided and continued. “I just want to thank all of you for being my friend while I was running from God and for all of your prayers and strong faith on my behalf. It wasn’t in vain, and I’ll be eternally grateful.” There was more applause as he started back to his seat, and anyone close enough was able to see that there were tears in his eyes.

There were tears in Kana’s eyes too, and running down her cheeks, but then a number of people that morning were experiencing the same thing. So many of them had prayed faithfully, and for them Lionel’s commitment to the Lord was their own victory too.

At the close of service, Eve and Darrin asked Gram and her family to join them for lunch to celebrate the great news, and although Kana thought perhaps she would have been wiser to keep her distance for a while, her parents and grandmother were so eager to go that she didn’t want to hinder their enjoyment by refusing. So they all ended up at the restaurant around a large table, and Kana found herself sitting right beside Lionel. Delly, of course, had claimed her place on his other side, and at least he was paying enough attention to her that Kana didn’t feel awkward. As they ate and talked, Lionel eventually began to speak to Kana privately. “I need to tell you, Kana, that a number of things you’ve shared with me about the Lord and your commitments to Him, as well as the scriptures you wrote down for me, have been a tremendous help in bringing me to this new life I have now. I can’t thank you enough.”

“I only shared things that are naturally a part of me, Lee. I really didn’t do anything special.”

“Well, not to you perhaps. But all of it was of very special help to me.”

“Well, I’m glad.”

“And from the moment I opened my heart up to the Lord, His Word has seemed much more alive to me. It really speaks to me personally, and I can better understand why you feel the way you do about your relationship with Him. And I want to tell you that I believe your determination to stick by your commitments to Him is a definite witness to people who don’t know Him yet. It was to me, and probably was the first thing that started me thinking more seriously than I had in a very long time about my own attitudes toward God.”

“Thank you for telling me that, Lee. It blesses me to know that it made a difference for someone besides me.”

The families lingered a long time over their meal and their enjoyment of each other’s company, finally getting up to go their separate ways. “I guess we’ll see you at the Bible Study Tuesday evening,” Eve said to Kana as they walked out of the restaurant.

“I’ll be there,” she answered. “See you then,” she added, waving to all of them at the same time as she followed her parents to their car.

The thought flashed through Lionel’s mind that if he were going to attend the Bible class too, perhaps he could offer to go by for Kana and take her with him. But instantly he dismissed the idea. He didn’t want her to have any reason to think that he expected her to go out with him just because he was a believer now. And he certainly wouldn’t want her to think that he had made this commitment just so she would spend time with him. It wasn’t true, of course, but he wanted to make sure that there was no confusion about the situation. So he stifled his desire to share that time with her and concentrated on how much he would enjoy learning more about the Word of God now that he was part of the Lord’s family.

Kana enjoyed the rest of her visit with her parents immensely. They were due to go back to Atlanta on Wednesday, and she was helping her mother pack for the return trip when Gram called her to the phone to talk to Cameron. “Hi, Pastor,” she said in her cheery voice.

“Hello yourself, Kana. I called because I want to talk to you about a development that came to my attention yesterday, and after taking the time to check with the other church leaders involved in the situation, I am at liberty to ask you about something that I need you to think and pray about.”

“Oh … it sounds like it might be something pretty important.”

“It is. And, actually, I’m not the one who would normally be the first to contact an individual about this, but since Suzanne and I know you so much better than our principal or school administrator, we all agreed that perhaps I should be the first one to bring this to your attention.”

“What is it, Cameron?”

“Well, we just got notice that our first grade teacher at Prince of Peace Elementary School won’t be coming back in the fall. She’s expecting a baby, which as you know I can relate to in a whole new way now.” Kana laughed with him, enjoying his delight at the idea of becoming a father. “Anyway, she wants to devote all of her attention to the baby through the time of pregnancy and for at least the first three years after that, so it isn’t a situation where we will be holding her position open for just a pregnancy leave.

“I spoke with the board yesterday evening, and we all agreed that we would like to ask you to consider taking the position.” Kana gave a little gasp of surprise, but didn’t speak, and Cameron continued. “We know it would incorporate quite a move for you, and perhaps the salary will be somewhat less, but you seemed to fit into our camp and that whole teaching experience so well – like a hand in a glove, as a matter of fact – that we feel you would be an excellent choice for the position.

“My goodness! … this is really a surprise, Cameron.”

“We don’t have anyone else in the congregation who would be in a position to take the job, so I want you to know that you wouldn’t be stepping on any toes should you decide you want to do this. But at the same time, we don’t want you to feel obligated because we don’t have any members available for it right now. We would normally advertise it, as we have other positions in the past, but we just felt we’d like to give you an opportunity to consider it first.”

“Well, as you know, this catches me a little off guard, but … I actually do think I’d like to consider it, Cameron.”

“Well, I know this is short notice, but I was wondering if you might like to meet with me and the principal after the Bible class tonight and let us fill you in on more of the details so that you’ll have all the information you’ll need to make a decision.”

“Normally, I would say yes, but since this is Mom and Dad’s last evening here, I was planning on coming straight home from the Bible class tonight. Could we possibly meet anytime tomorrow?”

“I’d forgotten that this was their last evening to be here. Of course you need to spend the time with them. Let me call our principal and check with him. I think there’s a good chance we can do it tomorrow just as well.”

“Okay, I’d appreciate that, Cameron, and I think most any time after they leave at 9:00 will be fine for me.”

“Great. I’ll let you know something at the class tonight then. And thank you for considering this, Kana. I personally think it’s a terrific idea, but I’ll try not to be pushy about it,” he said, laughing lightly.

Kana was chuckling too. “Thank you, Cameron … both for your thoughts and for you restraint. I’ll talk to you this evening.”

“Great. Bye for now.”

“Bye,” Kana said and hung up the phone, almost in a daze. She couldn’t believe this. She had just been talking to Vallie about how she thought she’d like a chance to teach in a Christian school, and now …. Was this the Lord’s doing? …“Lord, this is a huge decision. I need to know Your perfect will in this. … And I need to know it pretty quickly, Lord,” she said looking up to address her prayer Heavenward.

Her mother walked into the room at that time, and asked what she was praying about, so Kana filled her in. “Oh, Honey, this is a surprise isn’t it … and a big decision. Do you have all the facts about the job yet?”

“No, Cameron’s going to try to arrange a meeting with me and the principal tomorrow so that I can get all that information.”

“Information about what?” Gram asked, coming in to join them in the living room.

“Gram, you’ll never guess what’s happened.”

“Well, from the look on your face I’d say it’s quite a surprise but not an unpleasant one.”

“I guess that about sums it up,” Kana said, smiling. “Get Dad in here, Mom, and let’s all sit down and I’ll fill everybody in at the same time with as much as I know.”

When she had related the information to everyone, they all began to discuss the pros and cons as they saw them. Each one of them saw a different aspect of the situation, and Kana was glad she had this time to discuss the opportunity with her parents before they left. Gram, of course couldn’t keep the light out of her eyes at the thought that her granddaughter just might be moving down here to stay. Kana saw that light and hoped that Gram wouldn’t get her hopes up so high that she’d be disappointed if the decision was to decline the job.

Finally, by the time they’d traded ideas back and forth for some time, they realized they’d need to get dinner if Kana were going to make it to Bible class. So they held hands and prayed for God’s wisdom and direction in the matter, trusting Him to show Kana exactly what He wanted her to do.

Kana found it hard to concentrate on the Bible class as she normally did because of this other matter on her mind. And then having Lionel there seemed to affect her more than she had realized it would. She was thrilled he was there, of course, but she hadn’t expected her heartbeat to speed up the way it had whenever she looked over at him. He had shared some thoughts he’d had concerning his reading of the Word this week, and she was a little surprised at the depth of his understanding, and at the fact that he seemed to think the way she did about almost everything being discussed. Immediately after the meeting, Cameron made his way to her and told her that he had set up a meeting for them at 10:00 the next morning.

“That’s fine,” Kana said. “I’ll be here, and thank you.”

“Thank you,” he said. “And tell you parents I really enjoyed seeing them again, will you?”

“I sure will,” she said and slipped out of the group and hurried to her car before she got tied up in any other conversations. She really wanted to talk to Lionel … but at the same time … she didn’t want to. She shook her head at her confusing thoughts as she got into her car, and then she began to pray. “Lord, I don’t think I’ve ever needed so much wisdom and guidance at one time in my whole life. Please show me what to think … and how to feel … and what to do.

She thought about Vallie. Oh, dear. She wouldn’t be happy about this possibility. She’d have to call her. But, as she considered when to do so, she decided to wait until she had all of the facts from tomorrow’s meeting. At that moment, she realized that she had been thinking and feeling very positively toward the idea of taking this position, but now she realized that leaving her best friend would take some very serious soul searching indeed. Well, maybe tomorrow’s meeting would reveal something that would make her decision easier. She hoped so.

~

Chapter 14

When Kana walked out of the meeting the next morning, she knew she really wanted to accept the position they had offered her. She didn’t understand all of the reasons, especially since it would mean a slight reduction in salary and benefits, although for a private school, they did offer quite a bit. But in her heart, she knew that this was something that she’d been wanting to do for some time.

She had held back from saying as much to the two men she’d met with, though, because she still wanted to be absolutely sure that she wasn’t being swayed by Gram’s feelings … or more importantly … her own feelings concerning Lionel. She had resolved to pray some more about it, at least until Sunday, and to talk to Vallie first. She knew that since Vallie didn’t want her to leave Nashville, she would most likely come up with all of the arguments against taking this new position that Kana might not have thought of on her own.

She didn’t want to be influenced by other people in the congregation who might know about the job opening, so she told Gram that she was going to skip church that evening. “I don’t want to talk to anyone else about the situation right now, except Vallie,” she said. “I can think of most of the reasons why I’d like to take the job, but I need to look squarely at the other side of the picture, and she will definitely help me do that. I hope you understand, Gram.”

“Of course I do, Honey. You do what you feel you need to in order to be able to hear the Lord clearly. If anyone asks about you, I’ll just tell them you had some other obligations to fulfill tonight. You don’t have to be there every time the doors are open anyway, you know.”

Kana laughed. “I know, but I learned from the best … you. And you are there every time the doors are open. So I guess that’s why I almost feel guilty for not going. But thanks for understanding, Gram,” she said hugging her tightly. “I love you very much, you know.”

Gram gave Kana a little swat on her behind. “Yes, Missy, I do know that, and it gives your old granny a big lift every time I think about it.”

Kana laughed out loud. “Old! Gram you’ll never be old, so don’t even try to get my sympathy. You’ll be going strong for the Lord right up until the very minute you leave this earth to go be in His presence.” She kissed her grandmother on the cheek. “Now, I’ll help you get supper, and then while you’re at church, I’ll call Val.”

When Kana picked up the phone to make that call, her heart was beating rapidly. She knew part of the cause was that she almost dreaded to tell her friend that she was seriously considering not coming back to Nashville to stay. But another part of it was that she was a little afraid that Vallie might come up with some legitimate reasons why Kana should turn down this position at Prince of Peace School. But she had to talk it over with her.

“I knew it! … I just knew it!” Vallie almost shouted.

“What do you mean you knew it?”

Vallie let out a long sigh before she answered. “Oh … Kana … after we talked the last time, I began to pray in earnest about your desire to teach in a Christian school. And the more I prayed, the more I felt in my heart that the Lord’s been causing you to feel that way because He’s been preparing you for something He wants you to do. I just had this knowing inside that you would be teaching somewhere else next year. Only I had at least hoped it would be here in Nashville.”

“Vallie, are you serious? Is that what you really felt?”

“Listen, girl, would I say something like that if it weren’t true? Do you think it’s easy for me to even consider giving up the very best friend I’ve ever had in my whole life? I’ve cried and cried about it ever since the Lord showed me all of that.”

“Oh, Val …” Tears sprang to Kana’s eyes now. “I can hardly bear to think of our not being able to do almost everything together either. I’m so torn about what to do.”

Vallie sniffed loudly on her end of the phone. “I told Mom about all of it, and cried on her shoulder too, but she gave me a lecture. I can recall every word, and I think I ought to tell you what she said.”

“Absolutely. Tell me.”

“Her exact words were, ‘Now, Honey, in the first place, you don’t know for sure that this is going to happen. But if it does, you just think about David and Jonathan in the Bible. They were the closest of friends that ever lived, and they had to go their separate ways after a time, but they never stopped loving each other, and God made a way for them to still bless each other. David even did some special things for Jonathan’s family after Jonathan himself had died. Now you buck up and think of this from Kana’s point of view. If God’s leading her to make this big a change, it’s because He has something really good in store for her.’”

“Is that what you believe too, Vallie?”

Her friend sighed heavily again. “As much as I don’t want to have to say the words … yes, I do. And … although I’d like to come up with a bunch of reasons why you shouldn’t … I can’t come up with any except my own need of your friendship.”

“Well, you know that’s not a little thing to me, Val.”

“I know, and I feel the same way, but that doesn’t change the fact that God is looking at a much bigger picture than just our personal friendship here, Kana. And … I guess what I’m trying to say is that I truly want you to do what you believe in your heart is the right thing to do when you look at the bigger picture.”

It was Kana’s turn to sigh. “Boy … I was prepared for you to come up with all kinds of arguments that would help me see the negative side to taking this job, but here you’ve practically laid it in my lap!”

“Don’t remind me!”

There was a long pause while both of them tried to sort out their feelings. Joy, expectation, and disappointment all vied for first place in both of them, and finally Kana spoke again. “Vallie … do you think we’ll still remain best friends? Nashville and Gatlinburg aren’t all that far apart.”

“No … they aren’t … and if we’re determined to keep our friendship strong, I think we’ll find a way, dear. … That is … if you decide that you’re sure this job is what you’re supposed to be doing.”

“Well, I have to be honest and say that I’m not sure right now. I’m leaning toward it. I liked everything they told me in the meeting today, and I’ve worked with quite a few of the staff, because they were on the staff of the camp too. I like all of them, and I think they feel the same. We certainly worked well together. But … at the same time … I need to be sure that my feelings about Lee Butler aren’t entering into my decision.”

“Is anything else happening in that relationship yet?”

“No … and I’m not sure it’s supposed to. And I guess that’s my main reason for holding back on saying I’ll take this job.” Kana gasped at what she’d just said.

Vallie did too and then asked, “Did you hear what you just said, Kana?”

“Ye … yes. I did. I said that my concern about my feelings for Lee was the only real reason I’m not sure about this job. Vallie … I hadn’t realized it until I spoke those words, but except for that one question, I feel with everything in me that I’m supposed to be the first grade teacher here next year.” There was awe in her voice as she realized that her decision had already been made in her heart. Even her friendship with Valentina hadn’t been enough to dilute that strong pull inside of her to accept the position.

“I think the Lord’s given you the decision, dear, and I think you’re going to just have to let Him take care of everything concerning Lee Butler too. Don’t let that friendship … or whatever it might become … or not become … be a deciding factor.”

Kana had tears trickling down her cheeks now. “Oh, Vallie, what would I ever do without you? You’ve helped me so much.”

“Well, you’re not going to have to do without me. We’ve already decided that, remember?” She sighed again, resignedly. “Well, I guess there won’t be any need to read your journal at the end of the summer.”

“No, you’re helping me write it almost day by day,” Kana said, laughing now.

“You are coming back at the end of July to at least get sorted out and packed up, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yes, and … if I do decide to take this job, I’ll probably come up and talk to the principal personally as soon as possible.”

“Okay … at least we can spend some time together then.” Kana could hear the sadness in her friend’s voice. Her heart ached at the idea of moving away from her too. But she knew that Vallie had spoken what the Lord Himself had put into her heart, and she felt so grateful for such a friend.

“Thank you for being so honest with me, Vallie. It’s made all the difference.”

“I’m glad it’s helped a little at least. Why don’t we pray before we hang up.”

“That’s a good idea,” Kana said, and they each took a turn praying for the Lord to get His perfect will done in both of their lives. As always, they both felt much better when they had finished, and in spite of their hesitancy to be separated from each other, they both felt a sense of expectancy and hope for the future too … enough so that they were laughing again by the time they ended the call.

By Sunday, Kana knew that she was supposed to take the job at Prince of Peace School. She told Gram at breakfast that morning, and planned to tell Cameron and the principal after the evening service. There were always so many people for the pastor to talk to after the morning service, she thought that would be a confusing time to talk about something so important.

She would make plans to travel back to Nashville and talk to the principal there in the next day or two. That would still give them about five weeks to hire somebody else. She knew there were plenty of applications on file in the office. There was never a shortage of people wanting to teach there, so they wouldn’t have a hard time filling her place. There was something especially humbling about realizing that truth; it helped her to keep things in perspective and not feel as if the world would stand still because of any of her decisions. She just had to be sure that she was being obedient to the Lord for herself.

Just before they left for the evening service, Gram asked Kana’s permission to tell the Butlers about her decision. “Delly will be so excited to know that you’re going to be her teacher,” she said, beaming at the thought of how happy the child would be.

Kana chuckled. “Oh, Gram, you don’t need my permission. Everybody will know about it soon. But I think I’d better get a bag packed tomorrow and head up to Nashville bright and early Tuesday morning, so that I can talk to my own principal and give him as much notice as possible.”

“Yes, that’s the only right thing to do, although I hate for you to have to leave so quickly. Will you try to stay and do some other things while you’re there?”

“Yes, I think that would be the best. If I get everything sorted out and packed up, and make arrangements for movers or whatever I’ll need, then when I come back, I can spend the rest of the summer getting myself and my materials organized for the start of school .”

“Will Vallie be coming back soon?”

“She’ll be back to town next week, and I thought if I had most of the work done, that would give the two of us more time to spend together.” She sighed. “That’s the only really sad part of this decision, Gram. I’ve never had a truer friend than Vallie. The Lord just knitted our hearts together from the beginning of our acquaintance. We’ve actually been much more like sisters.”

“I know dear,” Gram said, hugging Kana. “But your friendship is strong enough to hold up even at a distance. Those God-created friendships last a whole lifetime, you know. I have one or two like that, and distance hasn’t changed our love or trust in each other over many years now.”

Kana smiled, although there were unshed tears in her eyes. “That helps, Gram. I’ll hold on to that.”

“And … Kana … I want you to know that my happiness at your making this decision isn’t just a selfish happiness –”

“Oh, I know that, Gram!” Kana interrupted her.

“Well, what I mean is, I really do believe that this is a brand new season in your life, and that the Lord has brought you here for a specific purpose. I believe He has some good plans that He wants to carry out in your life, and He needs you to be here in order for Him to do it.”

Kana was silent for a moment, just looking into her grandmother’s eyes. “You know, as I left Nashville to make this trip, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something special about it … that it was more than just a great vacation … or a long awaited visit with you.”

Gram nodded her head. She was sure of that fact. And unless she had missed her guess, she was almost positive that those special plans involved a certain young man who had just given his heart to the Lord – partly as a result of knowing Kana. She smiled widely to herself now as they went out the front door. Yes … she did believe in love at first sight … and even though there were hurdles to get over … love always found a way with the Lord’s help.

When service was over, Kana made her way to the principal, Mr. Jeffreys, to tell him of her decision. His face was wreathed in smiles as he shook her hand and welcomed her to the school family. Cameron came up to them about that time, smiling in expectation. “Do I see what I think I see?” He said. “Have you accepted the position, Kana?”

Grinning herself, Kana answered. “Yes, I have. You two were very persuasive at our meeting the other day, and I really do believe this is the Lord’s leading. Even my very best friend, who is in tears – as I am – about our being separated – old me that the Lord had prepared her for this turn of events.”

“Say, that is good news. It’s always nice to have those kinds of confirmations, isn’t it?” Cameron said.

Kana nodded her head. “It helped a lot.”

Mr. Jeffreys spoke again now. “Well, I’ll make myself available to you whenever you want to come in and start going over the materials and making plans, Kana. Just let me know.”

“Thank you. I’m planning on going back to Nashville on Tuesday to give them my notice personally and try to get things moving on that end, so I’ll probably wait until I’m back at the end of the month to start working on this end.”

“That makes sense. Then you won’t have to go back and forth trying to finish one thing and start another at the same time.”

Kana laughed. “That’s what I thought. I’m running it a little close on time as it is, but that’s probably best, under the circumstances. If I had a lot more time, I might get back home and start second guessing myself and lose my courage to make this change.”

Mr. Jeffreys was gray-headed, but his eyes still twinkled a bright blue, and they twinkled at her in kindness now. “I truly do believe that you’ve made the decision the Lord wants you to make, Kana. I believe we’ll all be blessed with the outcome.”

“Thank you, Sir,” she said, her eyes meeting his seriously. She reached out to shake his hand again. “I’ll give you a call as soon as I get back from Nashville.”

She turned then and started over to where Gram was standing with the Butlers, all of them wreathed in smiles. They looked up and saw that she was coming toward them, and Delly sprang from the group and ran to meet her, throwing her arms around her waist.

“Kana, is it really true? Are you going to be my teacher?”

“Yes, dear, I think I am.”

“Oh boy!” she said, bouncing up and down. “And don’t worry. I know I have to call you Miss Wallace at school, like we did in camp.” Then her face took on a concerned look. “But is it all right if I call you Kana when we’re not at school?”

“I think that would be fine as long as we’re not on some kind of school business … like a field trip or something. When we’re just with the family, you can still call me Kana.”

By that time they had joined the rest of the family, and Darrin announced that they had taken Gram up on her offer to buy ice cream for everybody as a way of celebrating. So once again, Kana found herself seated beside Lee Butler at a table, their arms touching lightly from time to time. It sent a little shiver through her when they touched, and involuntarily, she remembered the kiss again. Was it going to be like this every time they were together, she wondered?

“I was surprised to hear your news, but very happy about it,” Lee said now. “It will be quite a move for you.”

“Yes, it will. I’m going up Tuesday to start getting things ready. I don’t know for sure how much I’ll bring with me, but I need to make some pretty quick decisions and notify the movers.”

“Listen, if you’re not bringing a whole house-full of furniture, why don’t you let me come up and load it into a U-haul and bring it down for you? I’ll bring a friend to help, and Darrin can handle the garage on his own for two days. It won’t take more than that.”

“Oh, Lee, I couldn’t let you do that!”

“Why not! What are friends for?”

“Well … I … I don’t know …”

“Look, Kana, I feel that you’ve helped me so much, and I’d really like to do something to help make this move easier for you if I can. Let me do this.”

“Well, maybe. But let me see first how much I want to bring down. I’ll let you know. I promise.”

“Good. How long will you be gone this trip?”

“I’m not too sure. There’s a lot to do, and I’d like to get most of it taken care of before my best friend gets back to Nashville next week, because I want us to spend as much time together as possible before I leave for good.”

“She’ll be sorry to see you go, I’m sure.”

“Well … yes and no,” she answered smiling wryly.

“Yes and no?”

Kana chuckled now. “She wants me to do exactly what the Lord wants me to do, and she believes that involves moving down here and taking this job, but, of course, she doesn’t want us to be separated by so much distance.”

“Tell me about her; is she a teacher too?”

“Yes. Our classrooms are next door to each other, and we’ve both always taught at that same school. Her name’s Valentina Rosswell. She’s African-American and quite beautiful. She’s a year younger than I am, but we like all the same things and think the same way about so much that we’ve been more like sisters than friends ever since we met.”

“Sounds like one of those rare relationships that you want to keep for life.”

“Mmmm … it is. And I’m sure we will.”

“Well, I have to say that I’m really glad you decided to move down here. You already brighten the lives of so many people here, and I’m sure that can only increase when you’re here to live.”

Kana had been avoiding looking directly at Lee, but now she did. As soon as their eyes met, they held as if magnetized. She recognized a new warmth in their depths, but she tried to tell herself that it had nothing to do with her personally. Finally, she picked up the conversation again. “Thank you, Lee. That’s quite a compliment.”

He looked at her even more intently. “And you know it’s true.”

Kana still hadn’t been able to break eye contact with him when Delly interrupted their conversation. “Kana, can … I mean may I help you get your room at school ready when it’s time?”

Kana wasn’t sure how to answer that, but before she had much chance, Eve spoke up. “No, Delly, honey, Kana doesn’t need somebody bouncing around, asking a bunch of questions every few minutes. She needs some time alone in her room to think things out. Besides, if you get to go in and help, it might make the other children feel bad if they find out on the first day of school, since they wouldn’t have had a chance to do the same.”

“Oh … I didn’t think about that,” Delly said, her lower lip drooping and her head hanging down.

“I’ll tell you what,” Kana said cheerily. “I’ll try to save something that everyone can help with on the first day, how’s that?”

That wasn’t quite what Delly had been hoping for, but it was better than nothing, so she agreed readily, in case hesitating might cause that offer to be withdrawn too.

“I think it’s somebody’s bedtime,” Darrin spoke now, winking at Delly.

“But, Daddy, it’s summertime. There’s no school yet, so I ought to be able to stay up a long time.”

“Don’t give me that, Squirt. 9:30 is late enough unless something really special is going on.”

“Well something special is going on. It’s Kana’s celebration party.”

“Actually,” Kana spoke up now, “I’m tired enough myself to be ready for bed too. What about you, Gram?”

“Yes, I think I can call it a day … a very happy day,” she said, rising from her chair.

“Don’t forget, now, Kana,” Lee said as they all walked to their cars, “I’ll be waiting to hear from you about bringing your things down.”

“Oh, are you going to help with that, Lee?” Eve asked.

“Yeah, I told her I’d go up and load everything in a U-haul and bring it down. It’s a lot less expensive, and she won’t have to be concerned about anything possibly getting lost.”

“That’s a great idea, but you’ll need a little help, won’t you?” Darrin asked.

“I thought I’d ask Jimmy if he’d like to go along and help. We’ve been trying to think of something we could hire him to do, and this should fit the bill nicely.”

“Well, I can’t let you pay someone to come and move my furniture!” Kana said, sounding a little distraught. “I’ll gladly pay whatever you think’s fair.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Lionel answered. “Darrin and I have been thinking about hiring Jimmy on part time, just to do odd jobs, because he helps support his family. But what he earns several hours a week at the corner grocery just isn’t enough. This would be a way of working him into some hours with us without making him feel like it’s a handout.”

“Well … if you’re sure …” Kana still sounded unconvinced.

Lionel reached out and laid his hand gently on her shoulder. “Trust me, Kana; I know what I’m doing.” Instantly, she felt a warm current flow through her from where his hand lay, and she felt that magnetic pull toward him again. Fortunately for her peace of mind, as soon as he’d finished speaking, he removed his hand, but then she felt cold without that connection.

She just nodded her agreement and turned to get into the car. Darrin was holding the door for Gram, and Lionel did the same for Kana, leaning in, partly across her, to wish Gram a goodnight. As they drove home, she and Gram were both quiet. Kana was thinking about Lionel. What she didn’t know was that Gram was doing the same … and smiling to herself again.

~~~

  Chapter 15

The next day, as Kana worked at deciding what she should take on this trip to Nashville, Gram wandered in and out of the bedroom, making one or two suggestions, but mostly just being there. Kana kept feeling that her grandmother wanted to talk about something particular, but she didn’t know whether to just come out and ask her or wait for her to decide to bring it up.

Finally, about 3:00, Gram suggested they stop for tea and the cake she had baked that morning, and as they ate, she finally got to what was on her mind. “Kana, dear, I’d like to ask you something, but in order for me to feel free to do so, I need you to promise me that you will answer me totally truthfully, and not worry that you’ll hurt my feelings. I assure you, my feelings won’t be hurt, no matter what your answer, but I figure unless I bring it up, there’s no way you can make a decision about it.”

“What is it, Gram?.”

“Do I have your promise?”

Kana held up her right hand as if making a pledge. “I promise.”

“Well, I know you’ve been quite independent for several years, and I’m sure there are a lot of things you like about having your own apartment. But this house is so large, and we seem to get along so well together, I was just wondering if … well … if you might consider moving in with me, at least for your first year. I think I can promise that I’ll be keeping busy enough myself that I won’t smother you or interfere in your social life much.” She was grinning widely as she made the last statement, but Kana could see that there was a seriousness in her eyes.

“Well … to tell you the truth, Gram, I hadn’t given much thought yet to my living arrangements. I guess I just assumed in the back of my mind that I’d get an apartment, but … now that you’ve brought up this idea … I think maybe it’s something I should consider.” She grinned at her grandmother now. “And I think we have a good enough relationship that I would never feel smothered by you.”

“You could feel free to come and go as you please, and there are enough rooms in this house that you could entertain friends anytime you wanted with privacy. There’s even the two extra bedrooms, beside the ones you and I would use, so if Vallie or someone else wanted to come for an extended visit, that would cause no problem.”

“I’d really like to consider that, Gram. Are you sure it wouldn’t cause you to feel that you had someone here you had to take care of, though? I wouldn’t want you to feel that you had to wait on me or watch over me somehow.”

“No, I don’t believe I would. Of course, I’ve done a little of that these past few weeks, because you were on vacation, and I hardly ever get to spend time with you. But I don’t think I’d have any problem letting you do your share and act like the house was your responsibility too.”

“Well, if you really mean that, I think living here with you would be fun. That is … if you promise that after a while, if for some reason I feel the need to be out totally on my own again, you won’t be offended.”

“I can promise that. I do know what it is to need independence.”

“And do you promise that if I get to be a nuisance or a burden of any kind, you will be honest with me?”

“I promise, dear. I know you have the ability to earn a living and handle all of your own living expenses, so if I felt that I couldn’t handle the arrangement after a period of time, I’d tell you. But I seriously doubt that such a circumstance will arise.”

“And you’ll let me help with the expense and upkeep of the house?”

“Well …”

“That’s the only way I’ll do it, Gram.”

“All right. But since it’s my home, and everything I put into it is an investment that I will gain something from – and it won’t be that for you – let’s say that you can pay up to a third of the expenses, but not a penny more.”

“But …”

Gram held up her hand. “No arguments. If you won’t agree to that, we’ll just have to forget it. I won’t have you investing any more money than that in my property when you need to be saving for your own future. I want you to stay, but I draw the line at your paying for more than that.”

Kana grinned at her again. “Your some business woman, Gram. You know how to drive a hard bargain and get what you want. Maybe some of that will rub off on me, if I stay around on a regular basis.” She held our her right hand to shake. “It’s a deal, Mrs. Brighton.”

“Good. I thought if we could get that settled now it might help you decide what you want to move down here with you.”

“Oh, that’s right. That will make a difference in what I bring down.”

“If you want to change your bedroom and put in your own things, we can store the other stuff, and you can put some of your own things in the other rooms as well if you like. I thought you might especially want to add something to the study. It won’t bother me in the least to re-arrange things and do a little redecorating.”

“Well, I don’t have a whole lot, since it was just a one bedroom apartment, and all of the cabinets and bookcases were built-ins. The refrigerator and stove and washer and dryer all came with it, so they will stay there. And I suppose any other pieces that I didn’t want to move in here would be easy enough to store. And who knows, if we decide we like this arrangement well enough, I may even sell some of what I’m not using.”

“That makes sense, and if you aren’t particularly fond of some of the items, you might even want to sell them up there rather than move them.”

“Boy, I didn’t stop to think when I decided to take this job just how many hundreds of other decisions would need to be made as a result,” Kana said now, holding her head in her hands for a moment.

Gram chuckled at her. “Well, dear, at least the most important one has been made. You’ve taken the job. Then the second most important was about a place to live, and that’s been decided. So really, I’d say you’re over the worst of the hurdles already. And, at lest you won’t have to search for a new church home, because you already fit in here like one of the family.”

“Yeah … I guess you’re right, Gram. Considering what a big move I’m making, I really don’t have too many big problems left to solve, do I?”

Gram reached out and squeezed Kana’s hand. “I’m very excited about this, Kana. I’m expecting some very happy things to result from this move.”

“Thanks, Gram. I’m excited too.”

Kana left for Nashville at 9:00 the next morning, and by the middle of the afternoon, she was standing in the middle of her own living room still feeling some of that excitement. Only now it had to battle with the sadness and nostalgia that were naturally starting to crowd in.

But the job ahead of her was huge, so after she fixed herself a cup of tea and propped her feet up while she drank it, she started walking through the rooms and deciding what she wanted to move to Gatlinburg with her and what she felt she could part with easily. She wrote everything down in one column or the other, and she was pleasantly surprised at the end of the tour with how few items she felt she needed to keep.

She decided on fast food for her evening meal, because she could get more done if she didn’t stop to shop for groceries and cook. After eating, she did stop at a small neighborhood market to get only basic necessities for a couple more days, and planned to wait until the end of the week to do any serious shopping. She’d probably be here only one more week, and most of that time, she planned to spend with Vallie, which meant they’d probably eat out several times together.

The next morning, she went to the school and spent an hour with her principle. He seemed understanding and, surprisingly, even encouraging when she told him that she believed the Lord was leading her to make a change and use her teaching gifts in a Christian school. She also explained that the move would put her in the same city as her grandmother and much closer to her parents. She knew he was sorry to lose her, but he didn’t even hint that she should feel bad about her decision or reconsider it. He told her to take whatever time she needed to gather her materials from her classroom, and when she left his office, she felt a real peace about leaving.

By late that afternoon, she had sorted all of her material, separating what was her own from what belonged to the school. She had made at least a half dozen trips to her car, carrying everything, and since she had put boxes in her trunk for that specific reason, she just filled them and decided to leave everything in the car until she got back to Gatlinburg. A good deal of extra-curricular material that she had used for second grade could also be used for first, so she didn’t want to leave much of it behind.

On Friday, she ploughed through all of the correspondence, photographs, and books in her apartment, as well as her kitchen items, and by that evening, she had boxed everything she intended to take. She stood in the middle of her kitchen, her hands on her hips, and breathed a deep sigh of relief. The task was almost over. And for the first time, she thought seriously about taking Lionel up on his offer. She really didn’t want to take enough to pay a moving company, and she didn’t think anything she was moving would be more than they could handle loading themselves.

She didn’t know if she would be likely to find him at home on a Friday evening, but she’d try anyway. Gram had carefully written his home and business number on a page in Kana’s address book so that she could get in touch with him about the move when she was ready. Kana hadn’t told her that she wasn’t sure yet if she planned on letting him help. But now it seemed like a pretty good idea. And if she were really honest with herself … she wanted very much to talk with him.

He answered on the second ring, and Kana glanced at her watch just as he answered and realized that he might be having supper. “Lee, it’s Kana.”

“Yes, I recognize your voice. Hi.”

“Listen, I’ve been so busy I didn’t even look at a clock before I called. If you’re eating, I can call back later.”

“No. I’ve finished. I’m sitting here with my feet propped up, drinking a cup of coffee and watching Andy Griffith.”

“Really! I love that show! I have loads of those videos and DVDs.”

“So do I, and I knew you were a woman of good taste the first time I met you,” he said, laughing.

“As a matter of fact, I just finished packing a bunch of books and tapes this afternoon, and those shows were put in their own special box.”

“Good girl. I hope you’ll let me go through them and see if you have any I don’t have, and maybe we can share.”

“You bet. Anybody who’s a friend of Andy Griffith is a friend of mine.

Lionel didn’t respond for a moment, and when he did, his tone was serious. “I hope you do consider me your friend, Kana.”

“Of course.”

He cleared his throat to rid it of the huskiness that had crept into his voice. “Well, are you ready for my moving services?”

“I called to ask what you think about the load I’m planning on bringing down. I want you to tell me honestly if you think it’s more than we need to try to take ourselves.

“Okay, read me your list.”

When she had read off everything she planned to take, he asked. “Are you sure that’s all you’ll want to bring?”

“Yes. Since I’ve decided to move in with Gram at least for the first year, I won’t need anything more than this … if this much.

“I didn’t realize that you had decided to live with her. My very next question was going to be whether you were coming back down to look for an apartment before we moved everything. But I think moving in with your grandmother sounds like a great idea. I’m sure she’s thrilled.”

“Yeah, we talked again last night, and she’s bending over backwards to make sure I know she won’t ‘cramp my style,’ as she puts it. But I told her to stop worrying. I’ll enjoy this set up more than she will.”

“I’m glad. She’s a wonderful woman, and with you making such a big move, it’s nice that you have someone of your own to move right in with. It will make you feel settled almost from the beginning.”

“You know, you’ve just put into words what I’ve been feeling ever since I decided to take Gram up on her offer. I hadn’t really been able to voice what I felt, but you’ve hit the nail on the head: I don’t feel the least bit unsettled even though I’m moving to a new town halfway across the state.”

“Well, great minds think alike, don’t you know that?” he answered, laughing.

“Thank you for including me in that category. To tell you the truth, I guess I must have a great mind because I’ve certainly put it through a rigorous work out this past week, and it’s still going strong.”

“So when do you want to come down?”

“You didn’t say what you thought about the load I’m bringing.”

“Oh, didn’t I? I thought I did. I couldn’t believe that was all you’re moving. I think the only sensible thing is to do what I suggested.”

“And you’re sure it won’t be a terrible imposition on you?”

“Kana!”

“Okay … okay. I just wanted to double check,” she said laughing at the sternness in his voice.”

“What day?”

“Well, Vallie gets back tomorrow, and I know she’ll want us to spend at least a couple of days together before I leave, and since you’ve just gotten started at the Bible class and Wednesday night services, I don’t want you missing those on my account. How about Thursday?”

“Sounds good. What we’ll do is come up early that morning and load everything up, and then take off early the next morning, if that’s all right with you.”

“That’s perfect. I can stay that last night with Vallie, and if you and Jimmy want to bring a couple of sleeping bags, you can stay here in my apartment that night and not bother with a motel.”

“Hmmm, that’s an idea. I’ll think about it. Although, if we don’t do that, you can have everything already turned off and shut down. Besides, I think Jimmy will consider staying in a motel a real treat, so I think I’ll just stick with that plan. Do you think I ought to reserve something?”

“Oh, there are so many in this area, I don’t think it’s necessary, but if you’d like for me to reserve something at the one nearest Vallie’s apartment, I can do that.”

“That sounds like a good idea. Then we’ll be close by if we need to handle any last minutes details. Are you going to follow us down Friday morning?”

“I think I should. I need some time to prepare at the school after I get back, and if I stay another day or two, it’s just going to be that much harder leaving Vallie. So, as of right now, my plan is to go down when you and Jimmy do.”

“I think that’s best too. Okay, if I don’t hear anything different, we’ll be there with a big truck right around noon Thursday.”

“Good. I’ll bring something in for lunch, and I’m going to take Vallie and you and Jimmy all out for dinner that evening as a great big thank you to everybody at once.”

“There’s no need for that, Kana —”

“Don’t bother arguing, Lee. It’s that way or no way at all. I won’t let you and Jimmy come up here and do all that work unless you’ll let me treat you to dinner.”

“Okay, I guess you’re the boss on this job. Now give me some specific directions.”

Having done that, Kana wished him a good night and hung up. She felt excited about this move in her life, even more so after talking with Lionel. She still wasn’t positive what she felt for him personally, but she knew that he made her life more interesting and pleasant, and she was grateful for the fact that he was now a member of God’s family and she didn’t have to keep up a guard of some kind whenever she was with him.

The following Thursday morning, Vallie arrived at Kana’s apartment to help with any last minute packing. They had spent the last several days just running around together, visiting all of their favorite places and finally ending up moving Kana to Vallie’s apartment the previous night for an old fashioned pajama party. It was still hard to think about being separated, but both girls had resolved to make this a happy time for each other, knowing that the Lord was leading this way. So although a few tears were shed from time to time, they laughed through most of the days.

By noon on Thursday, they were watching out the window for the moving truck, and sure enough, just a few minutes past the hour, Lionel and Jimmy pulled up. Vallie had been looking forward to this meeting with Lionel for days now, and could hardly keep from hopping up and down with anticipation. She watched out the curtain as he locked the truck, and he and Jimmy started up the walk. “Oh, Kana, he is handsome! He has those loose-limbed movements that make him look relaxed and laid back, but those muscles look like they’re solid as a rock.”

Kana laughed out loud. “For pity’s sake, Vallie, the way you’re going on, I’m surprised your tongue isn’t hanging out.”

“Hey, girl, if it weren’t for the fact that I know your seriously interested, it just might have been.”

“What do you mean seriously interested?”

“Just what it sounds like I mean, and you know I’m right, so don’t bother arguing. Besides, there’s the bell. Let ‘em in; I want to meet this hunk.”

Kana was still laughing when she opened the door, and Lionel thought she had never looked lovelier. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed. What he really wanted to do was grab her up and swing her around, but he managed to restrain himself and smile politely, giving a little salute. “Butler’s moving service at your command, madam. This is my partner, Jimmy Mitchell,” he added, putting his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder.

Jimmy grinned and held out his hand to Kana. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am.”

“Oh, please, Jimmy, call me Kana, and come on in,” she said, stepping back to let them enter the apartment.

As they did so, Valentina stepped toward them from across the room, her eyes bright and her voice welcoming. “Hi, I’m Valentina Rosswell,” she said, offering her hand to Lionel. “And I’m sure you’re Lee Butler. You’re as handsome as Kana said you were.”

Lionel blushed slightly, and Kana blushed a lot. Vallie just grinned and turned to Jimmy, offering him her hand also. “Hi, Jimmy. We’re sure glad you could come to help.”

Kana cleared her throat and spoke again. “Why don’t we have something to eat first, and you guys can have a few minutes to rest. Then we can get started. With all four of us, it shouldn’t take very long.”

“Sounds good,” Lionel said. “Where can we wash up?”

“Bathroom’s down the hall and to your left. For lunch I’ve got a selection of cold cuts, chips, and cookies. I hope that’s all right. I thought that was better than ordering something hot and trying to keep it that way until you got here.”

“That sounds great to me,” Jimmy said enthusiastically.

“Same here,” Lionel said. “And I think we’re both hungry enough to do it justice,” he added as he and Jimmy started down the hall.

They sat on the high stools around the kitchen counter as they ate, and Kana asked a few questions about the people she knew in Gatlinburg. Then Vallie told Lionel how excited she’d been when Kana had told her of his new commitment to the Lord, and she asked him to tell her about it. So that carried them most of the way through the meal, and by the time they were having coffee from a thermos, Lionel leaned back in his chair and just looked at Vallie for a long time.

“You have absolutely gorgeous eyes!” he said. “But I imagine you’ve been told that before.”

Vallie had been surprised at his comment. Although she was used to people commenting on her unusual aquamarine eyes, she hadn’t expected such an overt compliment from this friend of Kana’s.

“Why, thank you, Lee. I have had other people comment on them, just because the color is unusual in African-American people. But I’ve rarely had a nicer compliment than what you just said.”

Kana squirmed just slightly, although no one else noticed. She loved her best friend and had always been proud of how beautiful she was, but for some reason, she didn’t feel the least bit happy that Lionel had seemed so taken with that beauty today.

“Does anyone else in your family have the same color eyes?” he asked now.

“No. I’m the exception. Everybody else has brown eyes.”

“That’s interesting”

Kana felt that it was time to change the subject, so she cleared her throat a little and asked, “Well … do you guys want anything else to eat?”

“Not me,” Lionel said, patting his stomach. “I just about made a pig of myself as it is. How about you, Jimmy?”

“I’m taking this one more cookie, and then I’m done,” he answered, grinning and taking a bite at the same time.

“Well, I’ll clear the table them,” Kana said, rising. “You two rest a few minutes before you start hauling furniture out.”

“Why don’t you walk through the apartment with us and point out specifically which pieces go, and then we can get an idea what we want to start with,” Lionel said, getting up also.

“That’s a good idea,” Vallie said. “You do that, Kana, and I’ll clear up things in here. Then we’ll all be ready to carry stuff out at the same time.”

“Okay. Come on back to the bedroom and we’ll start there. I have it all written down,” she said, picking up a pad from the desk in the living room.

So by the time they had taken inventory, the boys were ready to carry out the heavy pieces first, and let the girls get the boxes of small things carried to the door.

It took about two hours to finish the job, and then Vallie suggested that everyone go back to her apartment until supper time.

“It might be a good idea to go ahead and make sure of our room at the motel first, and leave the truck there, if that’s all right with you girls. That means one of you will have to chauffeur us around, but that’s better than taking this truck back and forth.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Kana. “Why don’t I lead you to the motel in my car, while Vallie goes on home, and then I’ll give you a ride.”

“Good,” Lionel said. “You ready, Jimmy?”

“Sure thing.”

“Okay. I’m leaving one key here for the landlord, and he told me to keep the other one for another week, just in case I needed to come back for some reason.” Kana said, laying a key on the counter and picking up the plastic garbage bag they had used for their soiled paper plates and cups. “Vallie, you’re taking the left over food, right?”

“Got it right here,” she said holding up a plastic sack as she started out the door. “I’ll see you at the apartment.”

Valentina had found herself trying to measure just how smitten these two people were with each other. She knew Kana better than anyone else except her own family, and she was pretty convinced that her best friend was on the verge of finding herself in love with this man. And from what she had seen so far, she couldn’t find any reason for her not to be. Moreover, she’d bet a month’s salary that Lionel felt the same as Kana. She smiled to herself from time to time, resolving to pray even more so that neither of them would make a mistake.

She knew that after they left the restaurant this evening, they would drop the guys off at their motel, and she wanted to give Kana a little time alone with Lionel before that, so when they had all gathered at her apartment, she asked Jimmy is he’d like to ride with her to do some errands and see a little more of Nashville. He was quick to take her up on it, since he usually didn’t get much farther away from Gatlinburg than Knoxville, and that was only to take his mom to the doctor.

So Kana found herself alone with Lionel and feeling almost as awkward as a girl on her first date. To cover her awkwardness, she suggested making a pitcher of tea. She put the teakettle on and then sat down in the living room with him while they waited for the water to boil. They were both quiet for a while, and finally Lionel spoke first. “The Bible class was especially interesting this Tuesday. You would have liked the discussion.”

“Oh … what was it about?”

“How Christians shouldn’t become linked with unbelievers,” he said, with a teasing twinkle in his eyes.”

Kana couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “What a coincidence,” she said. “Did you have much to say?”

“I had a lot to say, actually. I shared with them what you had told me early in our friendship, and how much influence it had on me over the next few weeks. I think it helped one or two people there who were evidently considering relationships with people who aren’t professing Christians.”

“That’s great.” Kana said, and then was silent for a few moments. Finally she spoke again. “You know, I was a little surprised that you seemed to have so many of the same ideas that I have about a lot of scriptures. I think we agree on almost everything that’s been brought up in that class so far.”

“Really?” he said, leaning forward eagerly in his chair.

“Mmhmm.”

“I’m glad to know that.”

“Oh, there’s the teakettle,” Kana said, getting up and starting toward the kitchen. Lionel followed her and stood leaning against the door, watching her fix the pitcher of tea. “Mmmm, that smells good. What flavor is that?”

“Blueberry,” she said, grinning widely. “My very favorite.”

“I’ll have to remember that,” he said, a serious tone in his voice.

Kana couldn’t resist looking directly at him when she heard his tone of voice change. “Why would you need to do that?” she asked.

Lionel walked across the room and stood right in front of her. His eyes capturing and holding hers. “I find myself wanting to remember so many things about you, Kana. … The soothing sound of your voice … the way the sun sparkles on your hair when the rays hit it just right … this scattering of freckles that looks like gold dust,” he said, lifting his hand and drifting his forefinger lightly across her cheeks and nose.

Kana held her breath. His eyes had glanced down at her cheeks briefly, but now held hers mesmerized again, and he continued speaking. “The way your eyes look like melted chocolate … so warm and inviting.”

Kana sucked in her breath lightly. The woman in her just couldn’t resist her next comment. “I thought it was Valentina’s eyes that you were so taken with.”

Lionel’s eyes widened briefly, and he grinned. Was she just a little jealous? Without conscious thought, he put both hands up and cupped her face, speaking more softly now. “Oh, Valentina’s eyes are ‘attention getters’ all right. But your eyes, Kana … your eyes …” His face drifted closer, his warm breath like a caress. “ …When a man looks into your eyes … warm and lit up from deep inside … he feels like he’s come home.”

His face had drifted closer to hers with every phrase, and now his lips hovered over her own, brushing them so lightly she couldn’t be sure they had touched. She was prepared for his kiss … wanted his kiss … when suddenly he lifted his head. He sighed deeply and slowly lowered his hands and took a step back. “I’m … sorry, Kana.”

She felt cold without his touch, and her confusion showed in her eyes.

He spoke again. “I let that happen once before. I mustn’t let it happen again.”

Kana felt that she had to reassure him that the only reason she had kept him at arm’s length before was because of their differences in faith, so she said, “But, Lee, you weren’t a believer then. That’s what made it a problem.”

“I know that was the biggest problem, Kana. And I certainly thank God that we’re no longer separated in that way. But that wasn’t … isn’t the only problem.” He stuck his hands into his pockets and leaned back against the cabinet with a sigh. “I have some issues to deal with .. .very personal issues … that make me a very unlikely candidate for a husband and father in the future … and I need to be careful that I don’t lead you and me both into something that I can’t be trusted to complete in the right way.”

Kana sighed gently, disappointed, but grateful to him for being a man of so much honor. “I’m not sure I understand, Lee, but I’ll pray that the Lord will help you resolve all of those issues. Can I help you an any way?”

He shook his head sadly. “I’m afraid not, dear. They’re things that are part of my inherited make-up, and I’m not even sure yet just how much difference God can make in that.”

Kana felt warmed by the fact that he’d called her “dear,” and she reached out and touched his arm. “Just remember, Lee. Nothing is impossible with the Lord. You have to believe that.”

Lionel only nodded his head in response, and at that moment, Vallie and Jimmy returned, so the conversation was brought to a close. But Kana could still see that sad look in Lionel’s eyes as she lay on Vallie’s sofa that night trying to get some sleep. “Lord, I just pray for Lee in the name of Jesus. Please help him to believe that You can change anything that needs to be changed. And help him turn it all over to You. He belongs to you now, Lord. Help him to remember that You’re truly his very own Father, and that there’s nothing You won’t do for him. Thank You, Father. Amen.” The last words were whispered on a sigh, and Kana finally felt some peace and drifted off to sleep.

~~~

Chapter Sixteen

By 1:00 the following afternoon, Lionel and Kana were both pulling into her grandmother’s drive. She opened the door and stepped out on the porch before they were even out of their vehicles. “You made it in good time,” she said. “Do you want to come in and rest before you unload?”

They all agreed that was a good idea.

“You haven’t had your lunch yet, I hope?” Gram asked then.

“No, we were so close we decided to wait. Hope that was all right,” Kana said, laughing, but she knew her grandmother well enough to know she’d never be caught without plenty of food for guests.

“I sliced up some roast beef and made a big bowl of fruit salad just in case,” Gram said, leading the way into the kitchen. They all gathered around the table and Gram set out the food. It didn’t take long for them to make quite a dent in all of it, including the pound cake she added to go with the fruit salad, and while they ate Kana asked if they needed to move anything out of the way before they brought her stuff in.

“No, I managed to get two of the high school boys from church to move everything we talked about, so your room and the study are both ready for everything you want in there.”

“That’s great, Gram.” Kana grinned and almost giggled. “You know I’m almost as excited as when I was little and used to get to come and stay for a week.”

Lionel watched her eyes light up and her cheeks turn rosy with her memories. He wished he’d known her then, he thought. He’d bet she had been a lot of fun as a little girl.

“Me too,” Gram said.

“ All right,” Kana said, rising from the table, “come on, moving company.” She left the kitchen with her crew in tow.

By late afternoon, she and all of her possessions were installed either in their respective rooms, or in the extra storage space Gram had prepared in an upstairs bedroom.

“Will you stay for supper now, boys?” Gram asked.

“Oh, no,” Lionel said, laughing. “I can still feel some of the lunch you gave us. Besides, we need to get to the shop and make sure Darrin’s not drowning in work.”

“Okay, some other time then,” she said. “But you’re both going to get a hug, to be sure,” she said, suiting actions to her words. Lionel embraced her easily, and Jimmy a little awkwardly, but it was Lionel who was a little awkward when they turned to Kana. He wouldn’t have spurned a hug from her, but he didn’t want to initiate it. She just extended her hand to them , however, thanking them again and offering to do anything for them anytime to repay the favor.

For the next three weeks, Kana immersed herself in preparations for the coming school year. She had been somewhat familiar with the curriculum, because a friend of hers had used the same material to home school her two children for the past three years. Moreover, she liked the material very well, so she expected to have good results with it. And she always enjoyed creating bulletin boards and putting up other decorations around the room to make learning easier and more fun for the kids.

She was glad to have the opportunity to get to know several of the other staff members much better, and she felt that two of the women would become close friends in the near future. By the time the first day arrived, she felt an integral part of Prince of Peace Christian School, and she welcomed the students excitedly.

They were all excited too, since for them this was the first year of what many of them called “real school.” Somehow, kindergarten just didn’t measure up to the degree that first grade did. But there was one little girl who was frightened. She and her parents had moved to Gatlinburg just a month before school began, and she didn’t know anyone well. She had been to a small kindergarten in the town where they had lived before, but the student body wasn’t nearly as large as the one at Prince of Peace. So Kana spent extra time with little Ginger. And she enlisted Delly to help befriend the girl and make her feel at home.

Nothing could have pleased Delly more, and before the first day was over, she and Ginger had become fast friends. When Ginger’s mother came to pick her up, Kana introduced Delly and Eve to her, and hoped that the Lord would make the mothers good friends as well. After Ginger and her mom had left, along with most of the other students, Eve stayed to ask Kana how things had gone for her first whole day.

“Well, it was hectic, of course, with eighteen brand new first-graders all in one room, but it was so much fun. I know I’ve made the right decision to teach here.”

“I’m so glad,” Eve said. “And Delly is just ecstatic, you know.”

Kana smiled down at Delly. “You were so much help to Ginger, Delly. I’m so proud of you, and I know the Lord is too.”

Delly beamed. “I like her.” She looked at Eve. “Didn’t she have pretty hair, mommy? It’s the color of a sunset. And she has freckles, like Kana … I mean Miss Wallace.”

“Yes, she does have lovely hair. And I just want to say that I’m proud of you for befriending her too,” Eve said, hugging Delly to her. “Now why don’t you go get everything you’re taking home, and we’ll let Miss Wallace finish her work for the day.”

“Okay,” Delly said, hopping over to her desk.

Eve leaned over to whisper to Kana. “I’d like to invite you and Gram to dinner this Saturday, if you don’t feel that you’d be compromising anything going to dinner at one of your student’s homes.”

Kana laughed. “Of course not. Just think what I’d have to deal with if I had my own child in class. That’s happened to other teachers a number of times that I know of, and I’ve never known it to cause a real problem. And, yes, I’d love to come to dinner, and I’m positive I can answer for Gram too.”

“Great. Around 6:00 then, and tell Gram I already know what she’ll ask, and the answer if ‘No, she isn’t to bring anything.’”

They both laughed. “I’ll tell her, but I won’t guarantee she’ll pay any attention. See you then. And I’ll see you tomorrow, Delly.”

“Okay, Miss Wallace,” Delly said, emphasizing Kana’s classroom name and skipping out of the room ahead of her mom.

Saturday evening, Kana dressed with unusual care. She wasn’t sure if Lionel would be at dinner too, but she felt sure Eve and Darrin would have asked him, and even though she hadn’t actually admitted it to herself, she had missed him a lot over the last three weeks. She had been so busy that she hadn’t been anywhere besides school and church, and even at church, they hadn’t had an opportunity to talk for any length of time. Cameron had cornered Lionel on two different occasions to talk to the deacons about a new van the church was considering, and on a couple of occasions, two of the other teachers had pressured Kana to go out to eat with them after service. So she felt as if she’d hardly even seen Lionel at all.

She looked at herself in the mirror now, thinking about her feelings. She didn’t really want to admit it, but those feelings were very similar to the giddy kind of excitement she’d had when she’d gone out on her very first date with someone new. Her heart was beating faster than it should and her color was high. Her eyes sparkled, and she couldn’t help swirling around in the new dress she’d bought last week. She knew she didn’t need to dress up for the Butler’s, but the dress was simple enough she wouldn’t look overdressed. She just wanted to look very feminine, for some reason … well … for a very specific reason.

“Are you ready, Kana?” Gram called from downstairs.

“Be right there, Gram,” she called back and hurriedly dabbed her favorite cologne on her neck and wrists. She grabbed up her purse and hurried down the stairs.

“Oh, dear, you look beautiful! I like that dress even better on you than I did when I saw it on the hanger.”

“Me too,” Kana said. “The yellow checks and the full skirt make me feel very feminine.”

Gram smiled at her, noticing that she had taken extra pains with her make up too. Hmmm … she thought now .. .this looks very promising.

And all of Kana’s efforts seemed to be paying off when they walked into the Butler’s living room and Lionel rose and greeted them. His eyes widened and lit up when he looked at Kana, and his smile grew even broader. He tore his eyes away from her long enough to speak to Gram and allow her to hug him briefly, but when he turned back to Kana and took the hand she offered, he was speechless for a moment.

“Hi, Lee,” she said, smiling. “We haven’t had a chance to talk much since I got back into my daily grind.”

“You look beautiful,” he said now, and then as if realizing that his first words hadn’t been a normal response to hers, he cleared his throat and tried to work them into a more normal statement. “So I’d say the grind hasn’t been too hard on you so far,” he added, grinning at her again.

“Well … thank you,” she said, blushing, and feeling saved by Delly, who came bouncing in now and ran up to her, taking her other hand. Only then did Kana realize she and Lionel were still holding hands, and she reluctantly let his go.

“I can call you Kana tonight, right?” Delly asked, grinning at her teacher.

“Right,” Kana said, tugging on Delly’s curls. Then she looked back at Lionel. “You have a very bright little niece, did you know that?”

Lionel laughed at that, reaching out and pinching Delly lightly on her nose. “I do know that, but don’t tell her too often. She might get a big head.”

“Oh, Uncle Lee, my head can’t get big by itself!”

“It can’t?”

“No.”

“Well, I didn’t know that. You really are smart.”

Delly giggled and would have gone on hogging the conversation, except for the fact that Eve came in to welcome their guests and call everyone to the dining room. “Darrin’s on the phone, but he’s just about finished. By the time we sit down, he’ll be able to join us. Oh … Kana … I love your dress. Is it new?”

“Yes … I decided since I had a new job, I needed a few new clothes to go with it,” she said, grinning. Then she added. “The real truth is that I saw this in the store and just couldn’t resist it.”

Lionel still couldn’t keep his eyes off of her as they made their way into the dining room, and he just naturally sat down beside her. Everyone made light conversation through most of the meal, talking about school and a couple of repair jobs the brothers were working on for members of the church.

By the time they were nearly ready for dessert, Darrin looked across the table at his brother and brought up another subject that he had been debating about all through the first part of the meal. Normally, he was very careful where and how he talked to Lionel about their father, knowing how his brother felt. But now that he knew the Lord, and since they had company who helped make the atmosphere one of love and faith, he decided it was worth a try to bring up the subject right now.

“That was dad I was on the phone with, Lee,” he said in as casual a tone as he could. Lionel stopped moving, his fork halfway to his mouth. He didn’t look at Darrin, but he slowly put down his fork and sat stone still. Darrin continued, as if he hadn’t seen the reaction. “He asked about you, and asked if we’d consider coming down to Greensboro one weekend soon and see him.”

Total silence reigned at the table. Kana and Gram knew just enough about Lionel’s bad feelings toward his dad to know that this moment was fraught with possible trouble. They unintentionally held their breath. Darrin wanted to hold his, but he forced himself to breath normally in order to keep himself calm for what might be coming.

Finally, Lionel looked up and straight at Darrin. His voice was quiet, but carried a tone of steel in it. “You know my answer to that, and I’d rather not talk anymore about it right now.”

“Lee, he really does need to see you —-“

“I said …I don’t want to talk about it now, Darrin.”

“Daddy, are we going to see Grandpa?” Delly cut in.

“Delly,” Eve spoke up then, “we’ll talk about it later. Finish your meat, so you can have your pie and ice cream.” The subject of dessert was enough to sidetrack Delly, at least to the point of stuffing more food into her mouth, and then Eve looked at her husband. “Let’s find something happy to talk about while we have our dessert, Honey.”

Darrin nodded his head. He knew he had to give in or make a scene. At least, he had tried.

Eve reached out and touched Lionel’s hand. “Lee, come and help me carry in dessert and coffee.”

Lionel rose from his seat without another word and followed Eve into the kitchen. Darrin let out a long breath after they had left the room and looked over at Gram. She reached out and patted his arm, speaking to him quietly. “He has the Lord now, Darrin. You just have to give him time to turn everything over to Him.”

Darrin sighed again. “I know, Gram.”

Kana had seen the look in Lionel’s eyes. It was a shuttered look. As if he had put a shield up … a defense against pain and disappointment. Her own eyes filled with tears as she thought about what he might be going through in his own thoughts and memories. She blinked them away hurriedly as Lionel and Eve came back into the room, and after that, their conversation turned to lighter things again.

When they moved to the living room, Eve suggested they play a game of Password, and they all settled down for another hour enjoying the game. Lionel let Delly “help” him with his words, and they all laughed at some of her suggestions and Lionel’s expertise at talking her out of them. In spite of the tension of the earlier part of the evening, they ended up having fun and relaxing for the rest of the time. Finally, when Kana looked at her watch and exclaimed about how late it was, they were all a little surprised that they had enjoyed themselves to much.

“I think it’s time we went home, don’t you, Kana?” Gram asked.

“Yes, let’s go before we start another game, or I’ll get too involved to quit in the middle,” she said, laughing and getting up. “Thanks Eve for another wonderful meal.”

“I’m so glad you both could come. We’ll try to do it again soon.”

“We’ll see all of you in the morning, won’t we?” Gram asked as they walked toward the door.

“You bet,” Darrin said.

“I think it’s time I left too,” Lionel said, reaching out and giving Eve a hug. “Great food, Evie, as usual.” Then he leaned over and picked up Delly. “Goodnight, Princess,” he said, kissing her cheek. Then he laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder. He didn’t speak, but Darrin knew Lionel was letting him know that he was sorry if he had offended him.

“See you in the morning, Lee,” he said.

“I’ll walk you ladies to your car,” Lionel said now, taking each one of them by the elbow.

“Being escorted to my car by a handsome young man could go to my head,” Gram said, laughing, and stopped to give Lionel another hug before she got inside.

“Goodnight, Grandma Nora; goodnight, Kana,” he said, smiling at her as she slid into the driver’s seat. He would like to have had some time alone with her, but he hadn’t been able to figure out any excuse for doing so. Oh, well, probably just as well. There was no real future in anything between them, he thought now, as he got into his own car. His shoulders slumped a little as he started his car. He did turn to wave at Darrin, who was still standing on the porch as Lionel drove out of the drive.

He knew Darrin would try to talk to him tomorrow about their father. He’d have to talk with him, of course. And now that he had become a Christian, Lionel also knew that he was going to have to face the problem about his feelings for his father in light of God’s Word, but he just didn’t feel like he was ready to handle that yet. It wasn’t just his feelings about what had taken place in the past. It was knowing that what was in his father was probably in him also, and it would affect his future for the rest of his life.

“Lord,” he prayed now, “I know I have to deal with this, but I just don’t know how. I need Your help, but I don’t know if I’m ready to accept what You have to tell me … or what You’ll ask of me.” He sighed heavily as he pulled into his own drive. He turned off the engine and just sat back against the seat. “Please help me, Lord,” he whispered now. “Please help me.”

~~~

Chapter 17

To Lionel’s surprise, Darrin didn’t try to talk to him after service the next morning or try to make arrangements to meet with him that afternoon. He was relieved. He needed to work this out on his own, without any pressure from anyone else.

Of course, he knew it hurt Darrin that he never went with him to visit their dad. Darrin only made the trip about three or four times a year, and he usually took Eve and Delly a couple of those times. He insisted that their father had changed his ways at least a little. According to Darrin, he didn’t seem to drink much at all now, and he always seemed to be genuinely glad to see Eve and Delly.

Well, if they could enjoy each other’s company, that was great for them. He just couldn’t do it. He’d been thinking a lot lately about how he used to shield Darrin from some of their dad’s worst behavior, and because of that, Darrin didn’t have the scars that Lionel carried. Nor had he felt the fear of being just like his dad, as Lionel still did. Well, even though Darrin couldn’t understand all of Lionel’s feelings, Lionel was still glad he’d shielded his little brother. Now he wouldn’t ever need the kind of healing that Lionel himself needed almost every day of his life.

Monday morning, Darrin did bring up the subject, but not to pressure Lionel. He simply stated that he and Eve would like to go down to Greensboro on Friday afternoon and stay until Saturday afternoon so that they could have longer to visit his dad. Their problem was that Delly had a birthday party to go to for one of her classmates on Saturday afternoon. Darrin asked if Lionel felt up to keeping Delly overnight and getting her to the party.

“Sure, Darrin. I don’t have anything special planned. She can sit here in the office and watch a video while I do one or two little jobs, and unless we have anything urgent, I’ll just close up about 11:00 and then we’ll have plenty of time to get her ready for the party. Does she know how to get to the right house and all?”

“Oh, yeah, but you do too. It’s Patty Simmons. She’s turning six on Saturday, and Delly feels absolutely grown up, having done so several weeks ago.” They both laughed at that, and Lionel felt his tension ease.

“Well, don’t hesitate to plan whatever you want. Stay until Sunday if you want to. You know Delly and I always find plenty of fun stuff to do.”

“Thanks, but I think overnight will be enough.” He paused, obviously weighing his next words. “Lee … you would tell me, if you felt like we were imposing on you when we ask you to keep Delly every once in a while, wouldn’t you?”

Lionel shoved the desk drawer he’d been digging around in closed and looked up at his brother with surprise written all over his face. “Darrin, what kind of a question is that! You know I love Delly!”

“Oh, I know … I know. But sometimes, I worry that we’re interfering in your personal life more than we should when we take up your weekends with her.”

Lionel barked out a laugh. “My personal life? Darrin, you know I don’t even try to have much of a personal life. What would be the point? I’m not husband and father material, so why lead some girl on and make her think there’s a possibility of something that isn’t going to happen.” He stopped talking and just stared off into space for a moment. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders and spoke in a quieter tone. “If I can’t have any children of my own, I can at least enjoy my niece as much as possible. I may not have what it takes to make a descent father, but I’m a pretty good uncle, if I do say so myself,” he added, grinning, trying to make the atmosphere light again.

Darrin sat down on the edge of the desk, close to his brother and looked straight into his eyes. “Lee … I’ve never understood why you insist you’ll be a terrible husband and father. You’re a kind, compassionate man. You help everybody you know. What do you think it takes to be a good husband and father, for pete’s sake?”

Lionel could see that his brother was genuinely troubled by the question, and he decided maybe it was time to try to really explain. He hoped he could do so without causing Darrin some of that hurt he had tried to protect him from. He leaned back in his chair and let out a deep sigh.

“Darrin, I don’t want to bring up too much from the past, but would you believe me if I just told you that you never saw a lot of what our dad was really like and what he did when he was drunk and out of control. I did my best to keep you from seeing it, and to keep him from confronting you during those times. And … you didn’t always realize how poor we were because Mom and I tried very hard to make sure you had as many of your needs met as possible.” He held up his hand as if in defense. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wanting you to feel bad about it at all. We did it because we wanted to … because we loved you, and you were so little and trusting.”

He sighed again, anguish in the sound. “But the truth is, you never completely realized dad’s true character. It was pretty black … and because I experienced too much of it, the awfulness of it is indelibly imprinted on my memory. And … especially since I take after him almost completely in looks … I have to consider that I may have inherited a lot of his evil traits as well. I’d never want to inflict that kind of character and behavior on any woman and child.”

“But, Lee … you never drink … you never fight .. .you don’t even cuss!”

“That doesn’t mean that the potential isn’t there if the circumstances were right. If I were in a marriage where other things went wrong and stress and tensions got really bad, would I begin doing those things? … I don’t know for sure … and you don’t either.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, I do too! You could never do anything that would hurt someone you love!”

“Don’t be too sure, Darrin. Ordinary people often hurt the people they love, even without trying to at all.”

“Besides, Dad was never a Christian. You’ve turned your life over to the Lord, Lee, and that makes you a new person.”

Lionel got up and walked slowly over to the window and stood staring out. “I wish I could believe that, Darrin. .. .It never made so much difference to me before … but now … Now I find that I’m feeling things for someone that I’ve never felt before, and it’s really painful trying to cut those feelings off all the time and lock up everything inside of me.”

Darrin looked at his brother’s back. He’d bet anything that Lee was talking about feelings for Kana. Darrin had seen the sparks between them, and unless he was seeing things that weren’t there at all, Kana felt as much for his brother is Lee felt for her. He wracked his brain for something to say that might help. He prayed silently for the Lord to show him something.

Lionel sighed again, his shoulders sagging. “I wish I could become a completely new person.”

That was it! That was it! Darrin jumped off the desk and picked up his Bible that he kept laying on one corner of it. He thumbed through the pages looking for a specific scripture. “But Lee … you have already become a new person .. .a brand new person!”

Lionel turned around. “What do you mean?”

“Look!” Darrin crossed over to him, holding out his Bible, open to the passage he’d been looking for. “Look at this, Lee. See what the Lord says about it. Second Corinthians, chapter five, verses fifteen through eighteen. Here,” he said, thrusting the Bible at his brother so that he had to take it into his own hands. “Read it for yourself.”

Lionel looked down at the passage that his brother pointed out and began to read out loud. “And that he died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all thing are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”

He stopped reading aloud, his eyes going back over the verses he had just read. Then he began to read one part aloud again. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” He paused again and took in a deep breath. After another moment, he spoke again. “He is a new creature … all things are become new.” He looked up at his brother with awe in his face. His eyes were wide with surprise … and … Darrin was almost sure … with new hope. “Darrin, do you think this means exactly what it says?”

“Lee, you know as well as I do that the Lord means what he says. He isn’t playing games with us and giving us riddles to figure out. Haven’t you believed He meant what He said in every other scripture you’ve read since you’ve been saved?”

Lionel nodded his head. “Yes. …Yes, I have.”

Just at that moment, a horn honked outside, and the boys jumped to attention. “Oh, that’s our first customer,” Darrin said, looking at his watch. “I hadn’t realized it was so late. I guess number two and three will be close behind. We did have three jobs lined up for this morning, didn’t we?”

Lionel nodded. “Yeah.” He closed the Bible. “I’ll look into this again a little later.” He looked into his brother’s eyes. “Thanks, Dare. I’m not sure yet exactly what to make of all of this, but you’ve given me some hope at least. I’ll read it some more this evening.”

Darrin gripped his brother’s shoulder tight. There were tears in his eyes, but he didn’t let them fall. He didn’t want to put Lee in an uncomfortable position at the beginning of their work day. “I’ll be praying, Lee. I believe God has some other positive, hopeful things to say to you too.”

Lionel nodded, and since the horn sounded again, Darrin turned to unlock the office door and open the first repair bay.

Later that evening, after Lionel had eaten, he picked up his own Bible and opened it to the book of First Corinthians. “Please give me understanding, Lord,” he whispered and began reading. He read through that book and on into Second Corinthians, wanting to read the verses Darrin had shown him in context with the rest of these letters to the church. As he read those same words in connection with all of the rest of those two letters, he realized even more clearly the meaning of the verse that had struck him earlier.

The Lord really was saying that when a person became a believer, he became a brand new being, and was freed from all the old things that would have enslaved him if he had not accepted Jesus Christ. Then when he got to the last verse of that same chapter, he found the words, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

After that, he looked up other scriptures that were given in reference to the passage in 2 Corinthians, chapter five and found several more places where the Lord said in His Word that a believer had died to the old sinful life and now had the righteous life of Christ living in him. He was especially struck by Galatians 2:20, which said, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

Lionel leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He let out a long slow breath as a new sweet peace settled over him. He felt as if he’d been washed clean all over again. “You really have made me a brand new person, haven’t You, Lord? You’ve made me righteous with Your own righteousness. I don’t have to be afraid of what I inherited from my earthly father, because You’ve taken it away and given me a new inheritance from You.” He smiled, shaking his head slowly, as if he could hardly believe what he had learned. But then he realized that he did believe it … and it had set him free.

“I don’t have to be afraid anymore,” he whispered. “Thank you, Jesus. I don’t have to be afraid that I’ll be like my dad anymore.” He sighed contentedly. “Not anymore.

His thoughts drifted to Kana, and he smiled again. He didn’t have to be afraid to let her know how he felt now. He didn’t have to hide from the future. He could look forward to it and to all the wonderful possibilities it held now. With the Lord’s help, there could be a wife and children in his future too. He smiled again. Lots of children, he thought now. Lots and lots of children.

He looked back down at the Bible in his lap. He picked it up and began reading again, his new freedom growing stronger with every verse. He got up and fixed himself a snack, still meditating on what he had read and the liberty it had given him.

As he ate some chips and dip, he decided that he needed to call Kana tomorrow and ask her to have dinner with him Saturday evening. Now that he was free to consider marriage and a family, he needed to find out just what it was that had started developing between them. So on that thought, he took himself to bed and slept soundly.

The following afternoon, as soon as he thought Kana would be home from school, he called Gram’s house and asked to speak to her. When she came to the phone, he felt his heart quicken its beat at the sound of her voice, and he had to clear his own throat before he could respond to her.

“Kana, I guess Gram told you who was calling?”

“Yes, how are you, Lee?”

“I’m doing very well actually. Better than in a long time. The Lord has been setting me free from some things that have been with me a long time, and it’s wonderful.”

“I’m so glad for you. Is it something you can share?”

“Well, at the right time, I’d like to share it with you, but perhaps we should wait a while.”

“All right. I’ll be glad to hear about it whenever you’re ready.”

“Thank you, Kana. What I really called about today was to ask you if you would have dinner with me Saturday evening.”

Kana felt such disappointment, she couldn’t speak for a moment. If only he’d called yesterday. “Oh, Lee, I’m sorry. I already have plans for Saturday evening.”

“Oh … I see.”

She could hear the disappointment in his voice too. “Could I have a rain check?” She wondered if that were being too pushy, but she just couldn’t bear to pass up the invitation completely.

“Sure … but … you don’t want to go out on a school night, do you?”

“Oh, I don’t know that I would refuse. If we go to dinner, I could still be home before 10:00 easily, and if I know I’m going out, I can arrange any work that needs to be done at home for another evening.”

“Well, then, how about Thursday? I’ll have Delly on Friday evening, and I know tonight and Wednesday are taken up with church. Will that put too much pressure on you to go out on Thursday too?”

“No, especially if we can go about 6:00. Is that too early for you?”

“Not at all. If I need to, I’ll have Darrin close up and I’ll leave a little early.”

“All right. You choose the place, and I’ll be ready by 6:00. Oh, but if you decide on some place where we need to be especially dressed up, be sure and let me know.”

“I’ll let you know now. Dress up. I feel like going some place special.”

Kana laughed. She felt almost giddy. Why hadn’t she felt like this when Cade had asked her out for Saturday? Why was she wishing that she hadn’t accepted his invitation? Was she that stuck on Lee Butler already? “I’ll do my best to be presentable,” she teased now.

“You don’t even have to try to look downright beautiful, and you know it,” he said.

Kana caught her breath, surprised at the candidness of his remark … and at the fact that he thought her beautiful.

“Well, to be honest, I don’t, but it’s nice to hear. Thank you, Lee. I’ll see you Thursday evening … I guess I’ll see you at Bible study tonight as well, won’t I?”

“You will, but I didn’t want to wait any later to ask you about dinner.”

“Well, I’m looking forward to it. See you later.”

“Bye, Kana.”

The next few days dragged for Lee. He saw Kana at Bible study and church service, but other people wanted her attention after both of those events, so he didn’t even have an opportunity to talk to her at any length. When Thursday came, he felt like a teenager who’d asked a girl out on his first real date. He fussed with his clothes, his hair, his decision about cologne. Finally, he was ready, and made his way out to the car, which he had washed and waxed just that afternoon.

When Kana met him at the door, he was struck speechless again. She wore a black dress that was very fitted at the top, with a wide neckline that was worn just barely off the shoulders, accenting the magnificent tan she had acquired in the last two months. The skirt fell in loose folds to the middle of her calf, and she wore high-heeled sandals to complete the outfit. She had decided on no jewelry except pearl earrings, and looking at her Lionel found that he had to remind himself to breathe normally.

“Come in and say something to Gram, and I’ll get my purse and a shawl.”

He stood still another minute, and finally managed to step over the threshold as he said, “You’re absolutely stunning.”

Her color was already high, but she blushed so richly, that Lionel once again had to tell himself to take a breath. “Thank you, Lee,” she said now, and he could tell that she too was a little breathless. “Gram’s in the living room,” she added, and motioned in that direction. Lionel headed that way, and she started up the steps. “I won’t be a minute,” she called as he entered the living room to speak to her grandmother.

“Lee, you look so handsome!” Gram exclaimed as she got up and came to hug him. “I’ll be careful not to wrinkle you.”

“Don’t worry. I only wear clothes that shed wrinkles. Life’s too short to bother with anything else is my motto,” he said, feeling more at ease now than when he’d first arrived.

“I’m ready,” Kana said from behind him now, and he turned to look at her. She was carrying a thin black silky shawl with tiny silver threads woven through it. He took it from her and placed it carefully around her shoulders, noticing a current something like electricity when his fingers touched her skin. He wondered if she had felt it too.

Kana had felt it, and blushed again. Gram noticed, but didn’t say anything, of course. She only smiled to herself as they went out the door.

As they made their way to the table, all eyes in the restaurant followed them. Lionel was wearing a dark gray suit with a bright white shirt and a silver gray tie that matched the silver in his hair. Together, they made a strikingly handsome couple, but both of them were so aware of each other, that they didn’t notice the attention they attracted from those around them.

They attracted further attention just because they were so obviously enjoying each other’s company the whole evening. They ate, but hardly noticed what the food tasted like. They were quiet at times, then in serious conversation, then laughing like two children, but the whole time they rarely took their eyes off of each other. They were a joy to watch, but were totally unaware of how they looked to anyone else.

On the drive home, Lionel decided he needed to tell her a little of what the Lord had done for him this week, so he asked her if she would sit with him a few minutes and talk after they arrived at her Grandmother’s house.

“Certainly. It isn’t late yet. We can go inside or sit out on the glider in the back.”

“That sounds good to me,” he said, so they walked around the house and settled down on the glider on the large back porch. The air was fragrant with the very first hint of fall, and the stars were so brilliant, they looked almost close enough to touch. Kana breathed in deeply and let out a contented sigh as Lee started the glider barely moving back and forth.

“I think I’ve mentioned to you that I’ve been concerned that I couldn’t possibly trust myself to become a good husband and father, because I feared that I may have inherited some of my father’s rather evil character traits. I haven’t experienced them to any extent up to now, but I always feared that they were there, latent in me, and could come pouring out with the right provocation.”

“I know you hinted at that Lee, but I never believed it. You’re well into your thirties, and if those things were part of your make up you would have seen good evidence of them by now.”

“That’s what Darrin thinks too, but that never helped … knowing that other people didn’t believe there could be a problem.” He paused and took a deep breath, looking up to the stars for a moment. Then he looked back at Kana. “But this week, thanks to Darrin, who showed me a scripture in Second Corinthians, I believe the Lord has finally shown me that once I turned my life over to him, He made me a completely new being, and all of those old things I could have inherited from my earthly father have passed away.”

Kana sat forward eagerly and looked intently into his eyes, excitement showing on her face. “Oh, Lionel, that’s so true! When you come to Christ you become a new person! I’m so glad Darrin led you to that scripture.”

“Me too. And now that I’ve read it for myself, as well as a number of other scriptures that confirm what those verses say, I feel like I’m finally free .. .really free, Kana, from all that fear.”

Kana reached out and laid her hand on his arm. “I’m so happy for you, Lee.”

Her touch sent blissful waves of warmth through his arm, and he reached over and laid his hand on top of hers. “Well, the best part is that I believe now I can let myself love a woman because now I can honestly offer her myself as a husband and father that she can trust.”

Something cold crept into Kana. Was he going to tell her that he was in love with some other woman? Then why take her to dinner to do it? She glanced down at his hand on hers and tried to pull hers away, but he tightened his grip.

“Kana,” he said quietly, but she didn’t look up.

Finally, he let her hand go and put his under her chin, lifting it until her face was totally exposed, but she still wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“Kana, look at me … please,” he said now.

She finally did so, and when she saw the flame in his eyes, her breath caught in her throat.

“Kana … I may be doing this in a clumsy way, and if so, I’m sorry .. .but I wanted to spend this evening alone with you, because I wanted to be sure what it was I felt for you, and … I know for sure now what that is.” Her eyes were glued to his. She couldn’t look away, and his burned into her very soul. His next words were a whisper, but Kana could understand them perfectly.

“I love you, Kana. … I love you as I have never loved any other woman.”

Kana just couldn’t speak in words, but unknown to her, her eyes spoke enough to him that he was encouraged to make the next move. Slowly he leaned toward her, and she held her breath. Her lips were slightly parted, and he touched his to them in a touch so light it was like a feather. He lifted his mouth the tiniest fraction and breathed her name in a soft groan before he captured those lips again in a full, hungry kiss.

Kana’s response was instant. Everything in her melted and flowed into him through her own kiss. His arms came around her and drew her firmly against him, and as the kiss continued, Kana’s arms stole slowly around his back, anchoring the two of them together even more firmly. When Lionel finally lifted his mouth from hers, he trailed his lips across her cheek to the tip of her ear, and breathing her name again, buried his face in her neck. She continued to embrace him for a few moments, and then finally, gradually pulled away.

They continued to gaze at each other for several moments; then Kana lowered her head.

“What is it, Dear?” he asked quietly.

She finally looked up. “Lee … I … I …“

“You’re not ready to make any kind of commitments?”

She nodded her head without words.

“I didn’t really think that you were, but I’ve been holding myself in check for so long, Kana, and now I’m finally so free that I just couldn’t contain what was filling my heart. I had to give myself the privilege of saying it out loud and demonstrating it. But I’m not trying to pressure you, my dear. Please don’t think that. … I’m not asking you to say or do anything right now, okay?”

Kana smiled at him, nodding her head in understanding. “I have deep feelings for you, Lee, but I’m not sure yet exactly what they are, or what I’m supposed to do about them.”

“Then we’ll leave things as they are for now. You’ll spend some more time with me though, won’t you?”

“Yes … I’d like that.”

“It’s too bad that you’re tied up Saturday.”

Kana looked down again, and Lionel could tell that she was troubled again. He waited, not wanting to push her to confide in him. Finally she looked into his eyes again and spoke. “About Saturday, Lee … I feel that I should tell you something …”

“You can tell me anything, Kana. I hope you know that.”

“Well … when you called to ask me about Saturday, I had just the day before accepted an invitation from Cade to go to dinner and a movie with him.” Her eyes searched his deeply, wanting to be sure that he understood.

He let out a quiet sigh, his eyes never leaving hers. “You have a right to spend time with anyone you wish, Kana. I haven’t asked you to commit yourself to me in any way. I think I’d like to do so, but it isn’t the right time for you yet.” He looked away from her for a moment and sighed again. “I can’t say that I’m glad to hear you’re going to be spending the whole evening with another man, but you’re a lovely and interesting woman, and I’m sure a number of men want your company. You deserve that they should.”

“To be honest, I’ve thought several times tonight that perhaps I should call him back and cancel the plans.”

“No!” At the vehemence of his answer, Kana blinked, and her mouth opened slightly in surprise.

“No, don’t cancel. You need to spend time with some other men. I want you to know how other men will make you feel and what they can offer you. That way, if you do decide that I’m the one you want, you’ll be sure. We won’t either one of us have to second guess our relationship. Especially since we got off to a rather unorthodox beginning, I think that’s especially important, don’t you?”

“Well … you may be right … but what about you? You said you haven’t allowed yourself to spend a lot of time with any one woman in a long time, and you haven’t allowed yourself to feel anything serious about anyone at all. If you give yourself a chance, you just might develop feelings for someone else that are stronger than what you feel for me.”

Lionel shook his head, looking deeply into her eyes. “No, Kana. In spite of my stringent control, you awakened and stirred in me deep feelings of tenderness .. .and need … and passion … that I literally had to battle against to keep my equilibrium emotionally. No other woman has ever done that. You’re the one my heart’s been waiting for.”

Kana couldn’t resist lifting her hand and caressing his cheek. “Oh, Lee …”

He couldn’t have stopped himself if he had tried … but he didn’t try. He leaned forward and kissed her again, gently securing her head with his hand as he did so. Her arms eased around his neck, and finally he pulled her to him completely, savoring the scent and the taste of her for a few unguarded moments. Gradually, he eased away, letting out his breath in a long sigh.

“I need to let you go in. You have an early day tomorrow with a roomful of power-packed kids,” he said with a grin.

“Your days begin pretty early too. And you said you have Delly for the weekend, didn’t you?”

“Just for Friday night and most of Saturday. Darrin and Eve will be back late Saturday afternoon.”

“Where are they going?”

“They’re going to Greensboro to see Dad,” he said, tension back in his voice. He glanced away from Kana.

“Oh, I see,” was all she said. She didn’t want to disrupt the sweetness of the time they’d shared, so she didn’t ask him any questions about why he wouldn’t go. But deep inside, Kana felt disturbed. She knew somehow that until Lionel could forgive his father and let all of the past go, he wouldn’t be able to have the successful relationships that he wanted in the future.

He rose from the glider. “Well, thank you, Kana, for spending the evening with me and for listening to all of my personal revelations.”

She rose too and began walking toward the front of the house, with him beside her. “I’ve enjoyed the whole evening, Lee. And I feel very privileged that you’ve wanted to share what you have with me.”

He turned when they got close to the porch. “Come, I’ll see you in,” he said leading her to the door. “Tell Gram I said goodnight, will you?”

“Sure.”

“And I’ll call you about another evening soon, okay?”

“It’s very okay. Goodnight,” she said, squeezing his hand lightly and opening the front door.

He returned to his car, and once she had closed the door behind her, he started the motor and pulled out of the drive.

~~~

 

Chapter 18

By the time Kana had spent half an hour with Cade the following Saturday evening, she knew that their relationship could never equal what she and Lionel Butler had with each other. She enjoyed his company, and was truly glad for his friendship, but she knew she would never be in love with this man.

When he walked her to the door and asked about calling her for another date soon, she looked into his eyes seriously and spoke. “Cade, I need to be completely honest with you. I’ve enjoyed every bit of the time we’ve spent together, and I’m glad we’re friends, but there is someone else in my life that I’ve developed serious feelings for.  And I don’t feel that it’s fair to you for me to continue seeing you other than as a friend.”

I see. I didn’t realize that you were serious about anyone.”

Kana grinned. “Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure myself until this week. But now that I do know, I feel it’s only right to tell you right away.  And … I’m sorry if I’ve inadvertently led you to believe that there was something more between us.”

No… you haven’t, Kana. And, of course, I haven’t had time to develop seriously romantic feelings for you yet, so there’s no damage done,” he added with a smile. “I’m not going to be insulted or broken-heated, although I will admit that I was hoping that we might be able to move into a more serious relationship in the near future.  And I enjoy being your friend too. That won’t change, I hope.”

Certainly not.”

Good,” he said, grinning at her. “And if you ever want to go to lunch … or even dinner … just as friends … I’ll be more than willing to do so.”

She reached out her hand to him, and he took it between both of his and squeezed it gently. “I’ll remember that, and thank you, Cade. And I’ll be praying that the Lord will lead you to the perfect woman to make your life complete too. I know you said you’ve been so busy the past few years that you haven’t had time to think much about romance.”

That’s true.”

Well, maybe I’ll pray that the right one comes looking for you, and that you won’t have to work at it too hard.”

Someone who’ll chase me until I catch her, you mean?” he said laughing out loud now.

Kana couldn’t help laughing too. “Something like that.”

Well, I’ll try to keep my eyes open. Thank you,” he added, lifting her hand to his lips and kissing it lightly before letting it go. “Goodnight, Kana.”

Goodnight and thanks again,” she said as she opened the front door. Cade started to his car and then turned around about half way there and called back. “Let’s not lose touch completely though, okay?”

I agree. Goodnight,” she said and stepped into the house.

As Cade drove away he couldn’t keep from wondering who it was that Kana cared so much about. Well, whoever he was, he was sure one lucky man. And maybe it was time he did some serious praying himself about his own love life. At least his friendship with Kana had started him thinking about his future as far as a wife and family were concerned. Yeah … He nodded his head thoughtfully. It was time he started letting something fill his life besides work.

With the decision about Cade, Kana knew that she had cleared the field for her relationship with Lionel Butler. So when he called about a date for the following Saturday, she was ready to accept. In fact, they began to spend at least a couple of evenings together each week, besides the incidental times they had a snack together after church or met at family gatherings.

And it didn’t take long for their families and friends to understand that the two of them were an item. Everybody considered that good news. In fact, one evening after a meal at Darrin and Eve’s, while Kana and Lee were walking in the yard hand in hand, Eve leaned over to Darrin and Gram and whispered. “Those two were absolutely made for each other, don’t you think?”

Sure seems like it,” Darrin said.

I’ve been sure of it for quite a while now,” Gram answered.

About a month later, Darrin came in to work one morning looking worried, and Lionel was quick to ask him about the cause. His brother sighed, taking off his jacket and flinging it down haphazardly on a chair. “I know you don’t want to talk about this, Lee, but I got a call from dad again last night. He sounded pretty bad. He was coughing a lot and I could tell he was pretty sick. I knew the last time Eve and I visited that he wasn’t doing well and was having trouble with his heart, but he wouldn’t talk much about it.”

Well, I’m sorry to hear he’s sick, I guess, but I can’t say that I really feel much of anything at the news.”

I know, but … I guess I just thought I should tell you. And … I want to go down and check on him personally. Would you mind holding down the fort Friday and Saturday morning by yourself?”

No, you know I wouldn’t. Go whenever you need to.”

Darrin nodded his head. “Thanks,” he said, laying his hand on Lionel’s shoulder for a moment. Then he picked up his coat and hung it up and started back into the other part of the shop.

Sunday, Darrin still wasn’t home, and after church, Kana asked Lionel if his brother were ill.

No, he went to Greensboro to visit our dad. Evidently he’s been sick, and Darrin wanted to spend some more time with him. He called Eve yesterday afternoon to say he’d be staying until today.”

I see,” she said and let it go at that, but it bothered Kana a lot that Lionel couldn’t seem to forgive and let go of the past. They were scheduled to have lunch together, just the two of them, after service, so while they were waiting on their food, she decided it was time they talked openly about his feelings concerning his dad. After all, if the two of them were headed for something more serious, they would be sharing all of these kinds of things anyway.

Lee, I’d like to ask you something,” she finally got up enough nerve to say.

Sure, what is it?”

Kana cleared her throat a little nervously. “Well … it’s about your dad.”

He leaned back in his chair with a sigh. “Oh … Kana …”

She reached out and took his hand. “Please don’t take that attitude, Lee. This is very important.”

No, it isn’t. Not to our relationship.”

Kana shook her head. “I don’t think that’s true, Lee.”

What do you mean?”

Well … if you’re having this hard a time forgiving someone who’s hurt you deeply … and you find it impossible to let go of the past, it could have a great deal to do with our relationship.”

How will it affect you and me?”

In a lot of ways really. For one thing, just suppose we eventually got serious enough that we decided to marry and have children. You said something one day about wanting at least seven or eight children of your own. What would we tell them about their grandparents? They’d have my parents, of course, but what would they have on your side of the family?”

I wouldn’t want them to have to have what’s on my side.”

But Delly obviously loves her grandfather … your father.”

This is a ridiculous conversation. A lot of kids don’t have grandparents.”

Okay … granted, that’s not the most important point, but I thought it was worth making.”

Well, what do you consider the most important point?”

Kana was quiet for a moment and then looked straight into his eyes. “Well, to be totally honest, if you continued to refuse to forgive your father and give him another chance, I guess I’d have to wonder how you would deal with me if I ever did anything that hurt you. Would you hold it against me too, instead of forgiving me and forgetting it.”

You’d never hurt me the way he did.”

You don’t know that, Lionel. I’m a human being too, and I don’t always do everything right. But it isn’t just me. What about other people? And more than that, what is your refusal to forgive saying about your relationship with God. You know, He says that if we won’t forgive others, He won’t forgive us.”

Lionel was quiet for several moments, and then the waitress came to set their food in front of them. They automatically bowed their heads, and after a minute, Lionel said, “Since you’re the forgiven one, perhaps you’d better do the praying over our food.”

The words stung Kana … and worried her, but she prayed a short prayer and started eating.

I’m sorry, honey,” he said, reaching for her hand. “I guess what you said hit me kind of hard.”

Kana smiled at him, but she said in a serious tone. “I didn’t mean for my words to hurt you, Lee, but it’s good if they hit you kind of hard, because this is a very important subject with God.”

Kana, you don’t know what my dad was like … or what it was like living with him.”

No, I don’t,” she said. “But God does, and He still says we have to forgive. It’s for our own sake. If we don’t, the unforgiveness will poison us. A lot of people are sick right now just from holding anger and unforgiveness against someone else. If we refuse to let it go, it will fester inside of us and eventually destroy us. Besides taking us completely out of right fellowship with God Himself.”

She paused to take another bite or two and then continued. “Besides … if our Lord Jesus died in order to be able to forgive your dad, just who do you think you are, that you can refuse to forgive him? It seems a little like you’re saying you’re better than God.”

Lionel put down his fork and just sat and looked at her for a long moment. Finally he spoke. “Kana, I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t deal with it right now. I’m sorry. Could we please drop it for now?”

She sighed and nodded her head. “All right, Lee. Just so you understand that this is something that will come between the two of us if you can’t eventually get it resolved.”

He nodded his head in understanding, and they both just continued to eat their meal in silence.

On his way to take Kana home, Lionel’s cell phone rang. When he answered, it was Darrin. “Are you calling from home?”Lionel asked him.

Yeah, I got in about an hour ago. Eve said you and Kana went out to eat, and I thought I’d try to catch you before you got home and ask you to swing by here after you leave Kana.”

I’m not sure exactly what time that will be.”

Doesn’t matter. I’ll be here. I need to talk to you, and I’ll go ahead and tell you that it’s about Dad.” Lionel breathed an exasperated sigh.

I’m sorry, Lee, but I’m not going to let this go. There are some things you need to understand clearly about his condition. What you do with the information is up to you, but I’m not going to neglect telling you about it in detail.”

All right, Darrin. We’re almost to Kana’s house now. I’ll just drop her off and be right over. Might as well get it over with.”

Thanks, Lee.”

I’ll see you in a few minutes,” he said and shut off the phone.

That was Darrin?” Kana asked quietly.

Yeah,” he answered, sighing painfully again. “He wants to talk to me about something he found out concerning Dad.”

Kana’s mind was churning with things that she wanted to say to Lionel, but she knew better that to do so now. He was going to have enough to deal with when he got to his brother’s house. They pulled into her drive, and Lionel got out and opened her door, accompanying her to the porch.

Thanks for dinner,” she said as they walked up the steps. She put her hand on the doorknob.

Kana?” Lionel spoke hesitantly. “Are you going to refuse to kiss me goodbye just because we can’t agree about my father?”

She reached out and cupped his cheek with the palm of her hand. “No,” she whispered and kissed him softly and briefly on the lips. He reached for her, but she pulled back gently. She placed her fingers over his lips, looking into his eyes. “You can’t hide from this thing by trying to throw yourself full force into romantic activities with me, Lee.”

His mouth dropped open, and his eyes grew wide. “What a thing to say!”

But it’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to focus yourself completely on the emotional and physical relationship between the two of us in order to push this other subject out of your mind and not deal with it yet.”

I give up!” he said, throwing his hands up, whirling around, and heading back to his car. Kana watched until he had turned out of the drive and then went inside to pray for him.

Lionel tried to pray on his way over to his brother’s house. He tried, but he couldn’t seem to concentrate. His mind was whirling, trying to figure out if what Kana had accused him of had been correct. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that what she’d said was the truth. He had been running from his own thoughts and feelings concerning his dad for a long time now. And since the day he’d discovered what it meant to be a brand new creature in Jesus Christ, he hadn’t been able to pick up his Bible and read without feeling a nagging inside of him to face the problem with his dad and get it resolved.

Lionel knew that he himself had received forgiveness for everything he’d ever been guilty of. Maybe he hadn’t done exactly what his dad had done, but he had spurned the Lord and rebelled against Him ever since he had been a teenager. Yet he had been aware, the moment he accepted Jesus, that the Lord had forgiven all of it.

Finally, as he pulled into his brother’s driveway, Lionel was able to breathe a sincere prayer. “I know You’ve forgiven me, Lord, without any reservations. How can I do any less for someone else? … But I’m going to need a lot of help from You. … Please, Father, give me the ability to do what You want me to do.”

A quiet peace seemed to settle over him as he sat in the car, and after a couple of minutes he got out and made his way to the house. Eve answered the door and reached out and hugged him. Then she put her arm through his and led him to the living room. “I’ve made cinnamon chocolate coffee. I’ll bring you a cup.”

Lionel grinned at her. “I thought that’s what I smelled. Or maybe I just hoped it was. Make it a big cup, Evie,” he said, winking at her. As she left the room, Lionel walked over and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder briefly and sat down on the end of the sofa that was closest to Darrin’s chair. He leaned back with a sigh and smiled at his brother. It was his signature smile, full and warm and inviting, and Darrin took hope from it. “Okay, Dare,” Lionel spoke quietly. “I’m finally ready to talk with you about Dad.”

Darrin smiled and turned as Eve entered the room carrying a tray with large mugs of coffee and a plate of cookies. She sat it on the coffee table and sat down beside Lee.

Well,” Darrin began, after taking two or three swallows of his coffee, “I mainly wanted you to know that I’ve found out Dad is very seriously ill. He had been in the hospital the week before he called me. He’s back home now, but for how long, I don’t know. He did finally admit that the doctor’s diagnosed congestive heart failure, as well as some other conditions, and his prognosis isn’t very good.”

Lionel closed his eyes against the emotional pain he was feeling, surprised that he felt anything at all, and not knowing how to deal with it. Darrin continued.

But I guess the thing that has me most upset is his soul. I’ve tried a number of times to talk to him about the Lord, but he just won’t permit it. The last couple of times, including this trip, he just shook his head and said, ‘It’s not for me, Darrin. It’s not for me.’

But personally – and I don’t know how to explain it really – but I keep getting the feeling that there’s something specific holding him back from being able to accept the Lord’s salvation. And he never lets me get far enough in our talk to explain how easy it is to receive Jesus.”

Darrin shook his head. He was leaning his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped between his legs. He looked down now at the floor and shook his head again, the pain he was feeling evident on his face.

You don’t have any idea what it is?” Lionel asked.

Not a clue,” Darrin said, sighing deeply and leaning back in his chair.

Lionel drank his coffee in silence for a few minutes. “Is there more that you think I need to know?”

Only that he asked about you again. He always asks about you, Lee”

Lionel nodded his head in response and looked straight into his brother’s eyes. “You don’t think he has long to live?”

I got the impression that the doctors think he might not have long, but he wouldn’t really tell me anything specific.” Darrin looked at his brother, pain filling his eyes. “I just wish you could bring yourself to go see him … just once, Lee.”

Lionel laid his head back against the sofa, closing his eyes. He was quiet for so long that it almost seemed he had dropped off to sleep. Eve and Darrin sat just as quietly, waiting. Finally, Lionel spoke softly.

Well … I have realized that I don’t really have a choice about forgiving him. I’m not sure that I’m capable of doing it … but I’ve made the decision to do it.” He sighed deeply, opening his eyes and sitting up straighter. “I’ve trusted the Lord for everything else since I finally gave Him my life. I guess I can trust Him to help me forgive Dad too.”

Darrin reached out and gripped his brother’s arm. “I’m so glad, Lee. And I know the Lord will help you.”

Eve slipped her arm around Lee’s shoulders gently and leaned over and kissed his cheek.

But,” Lional added, “ … about going to see him … I’m not sure about that. I’ll have to do some praying about it.”

Darrin nodded. “I understand.”

Lionel set his cup down on the table. “Well, I need to get home and do a couple of things before time for this evening’s service. I’ll see you two there, I guess, won’t I?”

Yeah,” Darrin answered. “I’m really tired, but I need the strength I’ll get from being in the service. It’ll do me more good than staying home and going to bed.”

Lionel smiled at him and patted his knee lightly as he got up. Eve started to rise. “No, don’t get up Eve. I’ll see myself out. See you in a couple of hours.”

~~~

Chapter Nineteen

Following the service that evening, Kana asked Lionel if things had gone all right with his brother. He was walking her to her car as they spoke and he nodded his head. “Yes, pretty well. I did a lot of thinking after I left you, and I realized that you had been right.” He grinned at her. “And so what else is new, huh?” Kana grinned back.

Anyway,” he added, sighing, “I decided that it was past time I faced the fact that the Lord had forgiven me for being so stiff-necked and rebellious to Him all these years, and I was obligated to do the same for Dad.”

Kana turned fully toward him and embraced him. “Oh, Lee, I’m so glad!”

Well, I can’t say that the feelings are there yet, but at least I’ve made the decision.”

So does that mean that you’re going to go see him?”

I don’t know about that. I told Darrin I’ll just have to pray about that for a while.”

Kana nodded her understanding. “Well … I’ll be praying too,” she said, squeezing his arm.

Lionel glanced around to see if anyone else was close by or watching. When he felt sure they weren’t being observed, he leaned down and kissed Kana. He had intended the kiss to be short, but his need of her encouragement and comfort kept him clinging to her for some time. When the kiss ended, he just looked into her eyes for a moment. “I love you so much,” he said.

Kana wanted to say that she loved him too. In fact, she almost let the words slip out, but then she caught herself. If she made that total commitment of herself emotionally, she couldn’t go back, and somehow, she just felt that Lionel still had to deal with some things of the past before he was ready for the future. So she just caressed his cheek gently, smiling at him as she turned to get into her car.

The following Saturday, since Darrin had said he would handle the shop and finally give Lionel some time off, Kana and Lionel took the whole day together. They went horseback riding in the morning and miniature golfing in the afternoon. They thought about going out to dinner, but decided they would rather just relax at Lionel’s apartment with pizza and some old Andy Griffith videos.

While they were just kicked back and relaxed later in the evening, Lionel reached over and turned the volume down on the TV and turned to face Kana as she sat beside him on the sofa. “Kana … I’d like to talk to you seriously for a few minutes,” he said, his fingers playing with a tiny thread visible on the shoulder of her shirt.”

What about?”

He looked into her eyes. “You know I love you. More than I’ve ever loved anyone. And … I think you feel the same way about me … although you haven’t said so in so many words.” He sighed now, closing his eyes briefly and then capturing hers again. “I need to know how you feel about me, Kana. I want to talk about our future.”

Kana lowered her eyes and bent her head. Lionel waited. Finally, she raised her eyes to his and lifted her hand, caressing his cheek. “Lionel, I do love you ….” He started to reach out for her, and she pulled back a little. “But,” she continued. “I don’t see how we can talk about a future when you’re still living in your past.”

What?”

You’re still living in all of the hurt and bitterness of your past.”

Lionel leaped up from the sofa, running his hands through his hair and beginning to pace across the room. He finally turned back to face her. “For crying out loud, Kana! I told you I’ve forgiven my father! What else do you want from me?”

She looked up at him with unshed tears in her eyes. “It isn’t what I want from you, Lee. It’s what I want for you. You’re in bondage to all of the memories and feelings from the past years with your father. They’ve got you locked up back there … and you aren’t free to plan anything for the future. I want you to be set free from the past. I want you to be able to let it go, so that it will let you go.”

She rose from her seat too and walked closer to him, looking into his eyes. “If I’m going to plan a future with you, then I want to have all of you … all of you, Lee … not just the surface part … the part that’s covering up everything deep down inside because you don’t want to bring it out and deal with it.”

I’m not covering anything up. I’ve been honest with you about the past and what it’s done to me.”

But what about what it’s still doing to you?”

Lionel hung his head. After another moment, he moved over and slumped into a chair, rubbing his hands over his face. “I don’t know, Kana. I don’t know if I even know how to try to deal with all of it any better than I have.”

Would you like a suggestion from me?”

He looked up at her, and she was almost sure she saw hope in his eyes.

Yes!”

She walked over to his chair and knelt down in the floor beside him, taking one of his hands in hers. “I think you need to go and spend some time with your dad, Lee. I think that’s what it’s going to take to get you set free from all of this.”

He didn’t reply. He just looked into her eyes for a long time. Then he leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. Finally he spoke softly. “I promise I’ll pray about it, Kana.” He opened his eyes and looked at her again. “That’s the best I can do right now. I will pray about going to see him.”

And I’ll pray for you … and for him,” she said, squeezing his hand and smiling radiantly at him. Then he leaned forward and took her face in both of his hands.

You did say you loved me … didn’t you?”

Kana nodded her head, still smiling. “I did say that I love you, Lee. And I do … very much.”

Lionel leaned further and touched her lips gently with his. The kiss was slow and lingering, as if he were drawing sweetness from her lips. And he was. He knew this woman was the sweetest gift the Lord had ever given him, and she made his life complete. Surely, he thought, as the kissed continued … surely with the Lord and Kana both loving him so much, he could find the strength from that to do what he needed to do about his past.

After Lionel took Kana home, he returned to his apartment and picked up his Bible to read. “So far, Lord, I’ve found all of the other answers I’ve needed right here in Your Word. Surely what I need now is here too … if I’ll just search for it.” Lionel sighed and leaned over and turned on the lamp beside the sofa. “Please help me, Father,” he whispered.

The Tuesday night Bible class had been studying the book of Isaiah recently, and Lionel especially liked all of the chapters toward the last part of the book that told about how the Lord comforted his people and promised a Savior. He had left a marker where they had stopped last week, and without conscious thought, he turned to that place and began reading in the next chapter. It was Isaiah 58, and God seemed to be talking about how He wasn’t happy with His people. He chastised them for trying to carry out religious practices, like fasting food, while, at the same time, failing to live right in their relationships with each other. As Lionel read through the chapter he came to the words where the Lord described what He considered a perfect fast.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens .. .to deal thy bread to the hungry .. .when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”

Something stabbed Lionel in the heart. Those words almost leaped off the page at him. He felt as if they had been written in letters three or four times the size of everything else. He read them again: “… and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh.” Is that what he’d been doing? He leaned his head back, closing his eyes, thinking hard. In hiding himself from the past, had he been hiding himself from his father … and as a result maybe even hiding part of his real self from the rest of his family?

That’s what Kana was referring to when she said she’d want to have all of him. And it was true that he wasn’t in a position to give all of himself to anyone, because he wasn’t really whole. He sat quietly for a while longer, and finally he began to pray again. “Is this my answer, Lord? Is this really the solution .. .to stop hiding from my own flesh, my own father … and to connect with him again?”

There wasn’t a sound in the apartment. Lionel sat still and listened to the voice on the inside of him. He had learned enough to know that if he wanted to hear from God, he had to give him time and stillness. So he waited … and slowly .. .but very surely … Lionel recognized the truth that came to light in his spirit and then gradually penetrated his mind and emotions. 

If the Lord had spoken out loud, the answer couldn’t have been clearer: Yes … he had been hiding himself from his own flesh and blood father, wallowing in the pain and misery of the past. And although God had the power to solve the problem, the next move was Lionel’s. God had to wait for him to make it before God could do His part.

Lionel slid from the sofa to the floor and onto his knees. “All right, Lord. I’ll go. You show me when and how … and I’ll go to see him. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do when I get there .. .but I won’t be rebellious against You anymore. I’ll go.”

The following week, Kana had two evenings taken up with parent-teacher conferences, so Lionel didn’t get a chance to spend any private time with her to talk about what the Lord had shown him. He did talk with her on the phone enough to tell her that he felt the Lord was showing him how to work things out. She was elated that he had made that much headway, and she looked forward to hearing the details.

Kana had spent many hours seeking the Lord concerning her relationship with Lionel Butler, and she felt certain that He had confirmed to her that Lionel was His choice for her. But she knew she needed to wait on God for the perfect timing of everything. The only problem was that it was getting harder and harder to hold her feelings back and wait. She loved him so much. In fact it was such a struggle that she had taken to calling Vallie about every other night to get some encouragement. She was hoping the two of them could get together in person soon. But at least their friendship seemed to still be as strong as ever, and it helped her a lot to talk everything out with the one who’d been her best friend for so long.

The following Friday was scheduled as a school holiday, so Darrin and Eve hoped to go to her sister’s for the long weekend. Darrin had tried to get Lionel to take a few days off to repay him for the several times he’d given Darrin a chance to get away. But Lionel wasn’t wanting time off right now. The truth was, in the back of his mind, he was thinking that if he could convince Kana to marry him soon, he’d plan on taking a whole week for a honeymoon, if they could work around her school schedule.

So Lionel insisted that Darrin and Eve go for the weekend, and they were taking Delly with them They decided to put up a sign announcing to their customers that they would be closed all day that Saturday. That way Lionel could do something special that weekend if he wanted. He planned to spend it with Kana, of course.

About midmorning on Friday, the phone at the shop rang, and Lionel pulled himself out from under the hood of a car and managed to answer it just before the answering machine picked up. “Butler’s Auto Repair,” he said.

Hello, this is Karen Allen from the administration office at Greensboro Hospital, and I’m trying to locate a Mr. Darrin Butler. I have this as his work number. Is that correct?”

This is his workplace, but he’s out of town. I’m his brother. Could I be of help?” Lionel spoke in a normal tone of voice, but his stomach tightened into a knot. It must be something to do with his dad.

Oh, are you Lionel Butler?”

Yes.”

Oh, yes, I see now; you’re listed as immediate family also. I’ve been asked to notify Isaac Butler’s family that he was admitted very early this morning in critical condition.”

Can you tell me anything more than that about his condition?”

Well, it’s quite serious, Mr. Butler. The doctor has him in intensive care at the present time and is running a number of tests. Apparently, he’s been in significant pain. I was told that your father collapsed outside his home this morning, and a neighbor called an ambulance.”

I see. Well, I’m grateful you called. My brother and his family are out of town for the weekend, but I’ll contact them immediately. Does …” Lionel stopped to try to swallow the constriction in his throat …“Does the doctor expect him to live?”

He’s not able to say for sure at this time, Mr. Butler. We’re doing all we can for him, but the doctor did indicate that his family should be notified as soon as possible.”

All right. As I say, I’ll call my brother, and then … then I’ll come down there.” Lionel hadn’t realized he was going to say that, but when the words were out, he knew it was right, and it was what he wanted to do. “It will take me a few hours, but I’ll be there.”

Fine, Mr. Butler. I won’t call again then, unless something changes dramatically for the worse. Is there any other number I should have in order to contact you?”

Yes, let me give you my cell number, and if something does change please contact me as soon as possible,” he said and then gave her the number.

I have it entered into the chart, Mr. Butler. Can I be of any more assistance?”

No .. .no, thank you.”

You’re welcome. I’m sorry it wasn’t better news. Goodbye.”

Goodbye,” Lionel said, hanging up in something of a daze. He had to take a minute to collect his thoughts. He had committed himself to leave for Greensboro as soon as possible, so he’d have to shut down everything here and get home. But he had to call Darrin first. When he tried Eve’s sister’s number, there was no answer, and no machine, so he tried his brother’s cell. Nothing but a message saying the user was unavailable. It was undoubtedly a problem with the service where Darrin was at that moment. Well, he’d close things up and go on home to pack an overnight bag and then try the house again.

While he packed, he thought about Kana and how much he needed her encouragement now. They had planned to go out to dinner tonight, but that would have to be canceled. He sat down for a moment, wishing with all his heart that she could go with him … but he wouldn’t ask that of her. He couldn’t. He looked at his watch and got up again to finish packing. He’d at least go by her house on his way. With the school holiday, she just might be there.

The thought of being able to see her made him hurry even more, and within minutes he was ready to leave. He tried Eve’s sister’s house again, but still got no answer. He checked his cell phone to make sure it was fully charged and shoved it into his pants pocket. He’d try again on the way.

Within twenty minutes, he was pulling into Gram’s driveway, and he breathed a deep sigh of relief when he saw Kana’s car. “Thank You, Lord. You knew I needed her prayers right now,” he said, getting out of the car and hurrying to the front door. Kana answered the door herself and surprise showed on her face, quickly followed by concern. She knew he should normally be at the shop.

What’s wrong, Lee?”

Before he even said a word, Lionel stepped inside and wrapped Kana in his arms, holding her in a tight grip. She returned his embrace, knowing he was hurting although having no idea why. She prayed silently for the Lord to help him. He buried his face in her hair for a moment, breathing in the sweetness of her that always gave him a special kind of peace. Finally, he pulled back and looked at her. “I came because I need you to pray for me. I’ve going down to Greensboro to see my dad.”

Today?”

He nodded his head. “The hospital called. Actually they were looking for Darrin, and since he wasn’t home, they called the work number they had for him. They said Dad was admitted early this morning in very serious condition. They’re not sure if he’ll live. I’ve been trying to get Darrin, and I’ll keep trying as I travel, but I believe I need to go right now.”

Kana put her arms around him again and just held him close for another moment. He tightened his arms around her like a vise again. She prayed silently for the Lord to show her how she could help him more.

He moved slightly, just enough to gently kiss her just below her ear, and whispered, “I love you so much.”

Suddenly she knew what she was supposed to do. She wasn’t supposed to just pray for Lee as he went. She was supposed to go with him. Hadn’t the Lord been showing her that it had been Him who had brought them together? Her place was beside Lee, helping him to be all that the Lord wanted him to be.

Lee,” she said a she pulled back enough to look into his eyes, “I’m going with you.”

His face registered surprise, but his eyes lit up with a new hope. “Are you sure you want to do this? You don’t even know him, and I’m not sure what kind of reception I’ll get.”

But I know you, and it’s you I’m going for. And I know God, and He’s the One who’s telling me to go.” She looked at him with a question in her eyes, not quite sure if he wanted her to go or not.

Suddenly he grabbed her in a fierce hug. “Oh, Kana … thank you; thank you!” he spoke fervently in her ear. “Thank you, Sweetheart,” he said more softly, as he pulled back and laid his hand gently along her cheek.

She smiled at him, leaning her face briefly against the palm of his hand. “Now, when do you want to leave?”

Well, actually I had packed enough clothes for one night, not knowing exactly what I’d find when I got there, and I was planning on leaving straight from here.”

All right, I can do the same. It won’t take me more than a few minutes. Gram’s in the kitchen, so why don’t you go fill her in on what we’re doing while I pack a bag.”

Do you think she’ll be upset to have you go with me?’

Are you kidding? If she’d been in here, she’d have suggested it first!”

Her laughter cheered Lionel immeasurably, and it was with a much lighter heart that he headed for the kitchen to talk to the woman who, more than anyone else besides his own mother, had prayed him into the kingdom of God.

They made excellent time driving, and arrived at the hospital around 2:00 that afternoon. When they were shown to his father’s room, Kana leaned over to Lionel to whisper, “Do you want to see him alone first, Lee?”

He stood very still, trying to decide. Finally he looked into her eyes. “No, Kana … and it’s not because I’m afraid … or that I still have any ill feelings toward him …. I think it’s because you’re so much a part of me now – at least as far as my heart is concerned – that I don’t think I’ll feel right in there without you. Do you mind?”

Her smile filled her eyes as she answered, “Not at all. Let’s go in.”

Isaac Butler was the only occupant in the room, and he appeared to be sleeping, but as they approached the bed, he opened his eyes and looked at them. He squinted at first, and then as his eyes focused more clearly on Lionel, he sucked in a breath of surprise that was audible. He reached his left hand out toward them as he spoke in a whisper. “Lionel? … Is it really you?”

Lionel had been gripping Kana’s hand fiercely, but at those words, he released her hand and took one giant step to his father’s side, reaching out and taking the trembling hand that was still held out in his direction.

Yes, Dad, it’s really me.” He felt his dad’s grip tighten.

It’s been a long time,” his father said in a voice that was a little stronger now.

Yes.” Lionel cleared his throat. …“A long time.”

Kana stayed in the background, not wanting to interfere with what the Lord was doing.

Isaac spoke again. “I … I wanted to see you. … Doctor’s don’t know if I’m goin’ to make it this time. … Too much drinkin’ … too much ever’thin’ for this old heart.” He sighed deeply and winced in pain.

Are you in pain?” Lionel asked. “Should I get you a nurse?”

No … no.” His dad’s grip tightened again. “They give me somethin’, but it don’t take it all away.”

Would you like some water?”

No, don’t waste no time on that ….” He sighed again, bringing on a spasm of coughing. When that subsided, he tried to continue, his voice weak and hoarse. “Not important. … I wanted to see you … to tell you …” He heaved another heavy sigh, and was silent for a full minute.

Tell me what, Dad?”

His father looked right into his eyes. “To tell you that I’m sorry, Son. … Sorry about your mama … sorry about you and me … sorry about ever’thin’. … Too late to change it now, but I felt I had to … to at least tell you.”

Tears trickled down the old man’s leathered cheeks, and Lionel was astounded at the compassion that swept through him for this man he’d hated for most of his life. God really had made Lionel Butler into a new creature. He squeezed his father’s hand. “It’s all forgiven, Dad.”

His father’s face registered shock as he heard those words, and his eyes questioned those of his son. “Forgiven?”

It’s all forgiven, Dad. You don’t have to think about it anymore.”

His dad’s sigh this time was one of relief, and there was another lengthy pause before he spoke again, looking at his son. “Thank you, Lionel. …You always did have your mama’s goodness in you, Boy.”

Lionel inhaled a startled breath, and his eyes widened as he looked at his father, who spoke again. “Oh, I know you don’t believe it, but I really did love your mama … the best I could love anybody. … She was the only person in the whole world that ever loved me.” Tears began to trickle down his cheeks again. “She was always good to me, Lionel, no matter what. … And you … you was so much like her.” He looked away from Lionel and stared out the window.

Finally he spoke again. “Wish I hadn’t waited too late to get to know her God, so’s I could go and be with her.”

Every part of Lionel’s being came to attention. Was this his father wanting another chance at salvation? He looked at Kana, a question in his eyes. She smiled, nodding her head to encourage him.

He sat down on the edge of his father’s bed, and the old man turned to look at him again. “You know, it’s not too late to know the God she served, Dad. … If that’s what you really want.”

I wouldn’t even know how to go about it.” He winced in pain again and put his right hand up to his chest. “Doctors don’t expect me to get out of here this time, so I don’t guess I can make it to no church.” His last words were more of a whisper as he struggled against the pain and congestion in his chest.

But you don’t have to go to a church, Dad. Believe me, I know.

I don’t?”

No. When I gave my heart to the Lord, I was alone in my own apartment. You can do it right here, if that’s what you want to do.”

Here?”

Lionel nodded his head.

How do I do it?”

Well, it’s Jesus that you need, Dad. Do you understand who Jesus is?”

His father thought for a few minutes, and then answered. “When I was a kid, I used to go to a Sunday School class, and the teacher explained that He was the Son of God who came and lived on earth and died on the cross for our sins, but I didn’t know much about sins in those days. .. .I do now. … Then she said He came out of His grave and went back to Heaven to fix up a place for us if we’d believe in Him.”

Do you believe that Jesus is who your teacher said He is?”

His dad was silent again for a few moments before answering. “Yes …yes, I think I do. He has to be real for your mama to have loved Him so much, and for her to have had the strength to put up with me and keep lovin’ me. She sure had to get that strength from somewhere. So He must be real.”

Well, then, all He requires is that you tell Him you believe He’s who He says He is; tell Him you know you’re a sinner and not fit to live with Him; and then ask Him to forgive you for those sins and come into your heart and take over your life.”

His dad’s eyes grew wide with wonderment. “You mean that’s all I have to do to have what your mama had?”

That’s all.”

That’s all you did?”

That’s all it took, and I’ve not been the same since. Because, when we do that, Dad, and He comes into us, He makes us into a brand new creature … a brand new person, Dad. The Bible calls it being born again.”

Isaac took a deep breath to answer, but started another spasm of coughing. When he finally caught his breath again, he looked right into Lionel’s eyes. “I’d like to do that, Son. Will you help me?”

Lionel felt as if his heart would beat out of his chest. He’d never imagined – not once in his entire life – that the day would come when he would be a Christian, being used by God to lead his own father to the Lord.  Kana was openly weeping now, knowing in her own heart what Lionel must be feeling. Her joy for him – for both of them – was beyond adequate expression.

Lionel cleared his throat of the thickness caused by the tears he was barely holding back. “Sure, Dad. Why don’t I tell you one sentence at a time what you need to say, and you can say it after me … but only if it’s what you really want to say with all your heart; you understand?”

Yes … yes, I understand.” He drew in another painful breath, coughed, and grabbed his chest again. But he forced out the words, “And it is what I want to say.”

Then just say this to the Lord: ‘Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God.’”

Isaac closed his eyes and repeated, “Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God.”

I believe You came to earth as a man and died on the cross for my sins.”

His father repeated every word.

I believe You rose from the grave, and that You are alive right now.”

Again, Isaac said every word, his voice becoming stronger with each sentence, and Lionel continued.

I’m a hopeless sinner, and I ask You to forgive me for all my sin.”

Tears flowed freely down Isaac’s cheeks as he said those words, and Lionel had no doubt that they were coming from a sincere heart.

And I ask You to come into me and be my Lord. Take over my whole life, and make me able to live with You forever.”

Isaac breathed a sigh of relief as he spoke the last words, his eyes still closed. “Forever,” he said again slowly, seeming to savor the sound of the word. Then he was silent for a few moments. Lionel didn’t speak either, or move. He was too overcome by how the Lord had just used him.

Pretty soon his father’s lips spread into a smile, and he opened his eyes and looked straight at Lionel, surprise and joy written all over his face. He reached out and grabbed Lionel’s hand again, only this time there was more strength in his grasp. “It’s happened, Lionel!  It’s happened! … There’s a … something … I don’t know how to describe it … Oh … yes I do … it’s peace, Lionel … peace! … and its just goin’ all through me!” That outburst led to another round of coughing, but as soon as it subsided, Isaac lay back grinning.

He breathed another relieved sigh and closed his eyes again. “Peace … real peace. … I never had peace before.” He opened his eyes again and looked at Lionel. “I never had peace in all my life ‘till just now, Lionel. Thank you for helpin’ me, Son.”

It was my pleasure, Dad,” Lionel said, grinning broadly himself, knowing he had never spoken any truer words in his life.

You know, your brother tried a few times to talk to me about the Lord,” Isaac said. “But at first I didn’t want to have nothin’ to do with Him. Then … later … every time I’d think about maybe doin’ somethin’ about it … I’d remember how bad I was to your mama … and to you.” He choked back some tears again, and put his hand against his chest. Lionel could tell he was still having pain, but he was determined not to let it deter him from what he needed to say. “And then I’d say to myself …‘You old … so and so sinner … God can’t forgive somebody like you.”

He had looked away while he spoke, but now he looked back up at Lionel with a light on his face. “But when you said that you forgive me … I mean … after all I did to you … if you can forgive me … then I can believe that God can forgive me too.”

Lionel’s intake of breath was audible. The shock of what his father had just said was more than his mind could take in. It was his own forgiveness that had convinced his father that there was a God who could forgive him too. What would have happened — Lionel suddenly felt chilled at the thought – what would have happened if he had never been willing to forgive his father and tell him that he had?

Lionel actually shivered from the cold that coursed through him. He knew what would have happened. His father would never have been able to believe in God’s forgiveness and would have gone out into eternity separated from the Lord forever.

Now I can die in peace and go and live with my Jesus and your mama.” His dad’s words brought Lionel back to attention.

Yes, you can Dad,” he said, smiling at his parent. “But maybe you won’t have to die yet. God’s a healer too, you know, and we’re going to pray for Him to give you some more years on this earth to live your new life and be a witness for Him.” As Lionel spoke those words, he reached out for Kana and drew her to his side, putting his arm around her. “This little lady is a strong believer, and I know she’ll pray for you to get well.”

His dad’s eyes flew open again, and Kana could have sworn he perked up when he realized she was standing beside Lionel. “Well, you’re sure a pretty little thing,” Isaac said, his voice still hoarse, but a big smile on his face. His eyes returned to Lionel’s. “Is this your wife, Lionel? You should have introduced her. Darrin never said nothin’ about you bein’ married, and I used to wonder why you didn’t have a wife and a passel of kids a long time ago.”

No, Dad, Kana isn’t my wife … yet … but I’m going to remedy that situation in the near future,” he said, squeezing her gently. “Her last name’s Wallace right now, but not for much longer.”

Kana reached out her hand and shook the old man’s. “How do you do, Mr. Butler. I’m so glad to meet you on such a happy day.”

He grinned at her. “Yes, it is a happy day, ain’t it? Very happy for me. I got my son back, and I got Jesus.”

You sure did!” she said, tears still streaming down her face.

Why didn’t you ever get married before, Lionel?” he asked, turning back to his son.

Well, to tell you the truth, Dad, I guess I was just too afraid that I’d turn out like you used to be, and that I’d only make a wife and children unhappy.”

Oh, no, no, Lionel!” his dad said, reaching out to lay his hand on his son’s arm. He winced in pain again, but refused to stop speaking. “You couldn’t never have been like me. You always had your mama’s goodness in you; don’t you know that?”

Lionel shrugged his shoulders. “No, I guess I never realized that, Dad, but it doesn’t matter any more, because the Lord was finally able to make me a new creature too. So I don’t have to worry about it anymore anyway.”

The old man shook his head. “I’m sorry, Son … for causing you so much pain in your life.”

Never mind now, Dad. It’s all in the past, and the Lord has changed all of that. Now, I want you to concentrate on getting well. Jesus is the Great Physician too, and He can heal cases the doctors think are hopeless. Kana and I will pray for you, and I want you to plan on getting stronger and stronger until you can get up and walk out of here.”

He got up from the bed and pulled Kana closer to his side, grinning, but still speaking to his father. “I’m planning a special event that I’d like you to come to. As a matter of fact, if you’ll pardon me for just a minute, I’m going to officially propose to this beautiful woman right now.”

Kana’s eyes widened. This was definitely the last thing she expected while standing in a hospital room. But the love in Lionel’s eyes engulfed her so completely that her surroundings faded away. Lionel turned to face her squarely, taking her lightly in his arms.

Kana, I think you know this … but just in case … I’m telling you in specific words — and in front of a witness: I love you more than my own life, and I don’t want to live any more of that life without you in the center of it. Will you please marry me?”

Tears poured down Kana’s cheeks. She’d watched this man give his life to the Lord and become a completely new person. She had seen him walk out his faith in every aspect of his life and win over every obstacle with what he found in the Word of God. What a strong faith he had … and what a loving heart. What more could she want from any man? God had been bringing her to this from the time she had made the decision last May to spend her summer in Gatlinburg … maybe from longer ago than that. She couldn’t give him any answer but one.

Yes, Lionel Butler, I’d be honored to marry you.”

Lionel kissed her lightly on the lips and then hugged her to him fiercely for a moment. Then, with his arm still around her, he turned back to his dad.

Now, you see, Dad, you have a very important job waiting on you when you get out of here. There’s going to be a wedding that I wouldn’t want you to miss, and then there are going to be at least seven or eight grandchildren that will need a lot of grandfathering.” He looked right into Kana’s eyes as he spoke the last sentence, remembering the little talk they’d had in the restaurant several weeks earlier.

She smiled at him, the love in her eyes warming him thoroughly.

You mean … you’d want me to be a part of your family, Lionel?” his dad asked, his voice hoarse, but with emotion this time.

Lionel looked straight into his father’s eyes. “Yes, Dad. I mean exactly that.  Kana and I want you to be a part of our lives and our family from now on.”

He stepped back up to the bed, still holding Kana. He reached out and took his father’s hand in a strong grip, his eyes testifying to the fullness he felt in his heart. His next words were quiet – but strong with the truth of what he felt: “I love you, Dad.”

THE END

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Repaired By Love is the third book in The Smoky Mountain Series. That series is published by St. Ellen Press and can be found – along with a large selection of other inspirational books – on the publishing house website.

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