In the Silence

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CHAPTER SIX

The bumping of the tires as David pulled the truck into the driveway broke Paul's trance. The words kept replaying in his head: Don't touch the children. David shut off the engine and broke the silence. "We're here." Paul hastily surveyed the yard. In front of the truck, under a carport, sat a fishing boat; next to it was something covered by a tarpaulin. Hanging from the rafters was a bright yellow rubber raft and all kinds of fishing gear. All David's toys seemed to be on display. Paul got out of the truck and walked around the front where he could see more of David's home. It was a newer brown and yellow double wide mobile with a ramp that went up to a white door.

As they walked up alongside the boat, David stopped and said, "Here, take a look at this." He pulled off the tarpaulin and unveiled a chrome glistening Harley. "They only made a thousand of this model," he said, showing off his pride and joy.

Paul, one who never let possessions posses him, tried to sound enthused, "Sure is a big thing, and the fire paint job is pretty."

"It's not pretty — this is eighty inches of awesomeness," said David as he pulled the tarpaulin back over the motorcycle. "You ready to meet Marcea?"

"Sure," he said, but his casual tone belied his apprehension. I hope I don't cause her to feel uncomfortable. I forgot to ask David if he told her I'm HIV positive. I have to be prudent around her children.

The wooden ramp bounced as the men headed to the front door. David swung the door open, "Welcome to my home. It's not much, but I've paid for the whole thing myself."

Paul stepped inside and the aromatic blast of a turkey cooking all morning filled his nose. To the right was a large screen television and next to it a whole rack of stereo equipment. The furniture was contemporary and everything was neat and orderly. To the left, the noise of a computer game drifted down the hallway, mixing with the sound of running water from the kitchen straight ahead. Once he heard the water shut off in the kitchen, Marcea appeared. Her big brown eyes complimented her full lips. She offered a smile as she stood there, wiping her hands dry with a dish towel. She had on a powder blue sleeveless dress which showed off her smooth, dark skinned shoulders. "I thought I heard you come in," she said in a soft voice.

David walked to her and gestured toward Paul, "This is my old buddy I've been telling you about."

Paul walked across the room to meet her. Her natural beauty was overwhelming. Her auburn hair was shinny and full and it flipped up where it rested on her shoulder. She looked flawless. Marcea extended her hand and said, "It's nice to meet you. David has told me so much about you."

Paul took her hand and shook it. "It's a pleasure to meet you. The turkey smells wonderful," Paul said and then let loose of her hand.

A buzzer went off in the kitchen and Marcea said, "Excuse me, I need to check on dinner. As she turned, the soft light coming through the window lit up her smooth olive skin. She needed no makeup. Her ambiance flowed with her as she disappeared back into the kitchen.

"Let's go meet the kids," said David and they headed down the hall. The bedroom door was almost closed and, as David pushed it open, the sound of a computer game got louder.

"Hey, turn that down. I want you to meet Paul," David said, loud enough to be heard.

Paul stuck his head inside the door and was caught off guard by a small boy in a wheelchair. Next to the boy, sitting on the edge of the bed, was a girl who looked older. Paul felt himself staring at this small, frail redheaded boy. He never knew! David had never mentioned a thing. All Paul could say was, "How are you kids?"

The little girl bounced on the edge of the bed. "Fine."

David moved further inside the room and said, "This is Danny, and this is Ann."

Ann immediately piped up, "Why do you have that funny white thing around your neck?"

Paul smiled at her and said, "It's a collar that priests wear."

"Oh, I knew that. It just looks funny."

"Don't mind her," David cut in. "Ann is ten going on fifteen."

Paul looked toward the boy and said, "And you must be Danny."

The small boy turned his head away as if embarrassed. He never spoke a word.

Anne jumped right in. "Danny is kind of shy. He's my brother and he is nine years old. When he was born he didn't get enough oxygen but he can still go to school." The words were well rehearsed. Anne had told this thousands of times.

"Thank you for the information," said Paul as he squatted down to be at eye level with Danny.

Danny turned his head. He was blushing, and then he smiled. There was so much innocence on the face of this young small child. Ann continued to bounce on the edge of the bed, excited by Paul's presence. She extended her hand toward him and asked, "Do you want to see my room? I've got a lot of horse stuff."

"Sure," said Paul. He reached out to take her hand, then instantly retracted it. "You show me the way."

Ann led Paul down the hall. Her room was on the left. The room was accented in lavender and filled with horse paraphernalia. Ann showed off the collection of porcelain horses she was so proud of. David had pushed Danny into the doorway and stood watch as Ann named each and every horse in her collection. Cautious, Paul kept his distance.

The phone rang in the other room, interrupting Ann's recital. Marcea's pleasant voice called out from the kitchen, "David, the phone is for you. It's important."

David left leaving Danny in the doorway. Paul turned and smiled at him. Paul did not even hear Ann as she continued naming all forty of her horses. Why didn't David mention anything? I wonder if Danny can talk. Lack of oxygen at birth — he might have cerebral palsy. He's one of God's special children.

David returned to check on everyone. Ann had just finished naming all the horses and now was working on the posters that covered the walls. David interrupted her, "I have to run down to the shop. One of my private eye clients broke his bugging devices and he needs it tonight."

"Do you want me to come with you?" asked Paul.

"No, stay here with me," begged Ann, pleading for her new found friendship.

Paul felt awkward. He understood David's apprehension and stood up and said, "I better go with David."

"Can't you ple..e..ease stay?" whined Ann.

Marcea had heard the pleading and was now standing beside David in the doorway. "Kids, why don't you take Paul into the front room and you can watch a movie until David gets back." This solution seemed to satisfy everyone.

David took off. Marcea pushed Danny to the front room and Ann lead Paul to the sofa. "What movie do you want to watch?" asked Marcea as she stood in front of the huge television, preparing to load the VCR.

"Black Beauty," Ann answered, moving a little closer to Paul.

Marcea put the movie on. Then, before returning to the kitchen, she lifted Danny from his chair and sat him next to Paul on the overstuffed couch.

The three of them sat on the couch bonding a friendship that didn't require anything but each other. Ann proceeded to narrate her favorite movie and Danny stole glances of Paul, smiling whenever Paul looked at him. Paul had never been around children much. He wished he could capture this moment in time and hold onto it forever. He could feel the simple abiding love of these two children.

Three quarters of the way through the movie Marcea came out of the kitchen, leaned over the back of the couch and whispered to Paul, "I made some coffee. Would you like to be rescued and come have a cup?"

Marcea was so close that he could smell her perfume and see her perfect complexion. She could easily pass for a woman in her early twenties. She was beautiful. Paul replied, "Sure, I'd love a cup of coffee."

Paul followed Marcea into the kitchen and sat at a table where a coffee mug along with cream and sugar had been thoughtfully placed. Marcea brought the coffee pot and filled Paul's mug. Moving to the sink, she started to wash some potatoes and said, "David really admires you. He has told me all about you."

Paul felt tense but had to ask, "Did he tell you about the other night, when we got stuck up on Mount Antero?"

"Oh, yes, he has gone over it about three times. He credits you for saving his life."

"Did he say anything else?"

Marcea set a potato beside the sink, turned toward Paul and answered, "Let's see, David did say something about his chest hurting." She paused in thought, then continued, "Oh yeah. How could I forget? He told me all about how you told Bill he made some great play in that famous football game."

Paul laughed and said, "He did make one great block."

"But did you have to tell David that? I am the one that has to live with him." Marcea instantly covered her mouth with her hand realizing what she had just said. She turned back to the sink feeling guilty. No one spoke for a few minutes. Paul took a sip of coffee and watched Marcea move to the stove, her beauty addicting, her movements graceful. She opened the oven and as she bent over to check the turkey her dress hiked up, exposing more of her trim but muscular legs. The legs of a dancer, thought Paul. There was something about her. Paul said a short silent prayer for strength. Celibacy sometimes seemed such a difficult vow but the reward of purging one's sexuality was worth it, especially to him.

Despite Marcea's physical beauty, inside she felt so ugly. There was so much sin in her life, all starting at age twelve. She had matured early physically, causing her emotional growth to be stunted. Her beauty was the cross she had to bear — men wanted to use her, women were jealous of her.

The aroma of the turkey was strong and enticing. Marcea said, "Dinner should be in about an hour. I hope David makes it back soon." "Sure smells good," Paul said, wanting to get the conversation going again.

"It's the first time I cooked for a priest." Marcea walked to the cupboard and got a mug.

Paul, not sure how to take it, said, "I would like you to regard me first as a friend, then maybe a priest."

"Really?"

"Yes. Most people are afraid of priests, or think that they are different. I am no different than you. I have the same feelings, have sinned, and desire true friendship just like everyone."

The essential honesty in his words helped Marcea relax and let down her guard. She walked over to the table and poured herself some coffee. Sitting across the table from Paul, she said, "You probably have figured out that I am living with David."

"Yes, but don't worry about what I think. How do you feel about it?" Paul asked her this as a friend might.

"I feel so trapped at times, but most of all I feel guilty and not whole inside."

"What makes you feel trapped?" asked Paul.

"Everything I guess. It's just so hard to put my finger on it. After Danny was born physically challenged, things changed. Mike, my husband, just couldn't take it. I tried so hard and maybe I showed too much attention to Danny, but he needs me. We tried to work things out, but Mike divorced me before Danny turned two."

"I'm sorry," said Paul. "Do the children see their father now?"

Angrily Marcea answered, "No, we had a fight over child support. Mike said he would pay for Ann, but he would not pay for the 'defective baby' I made. That's when I packed my two children and what little belongings I had and left Washington. I wasn't sure where I was going, I just had to get away. My car broke down in Denver and we have been here since."

"When did David come into the picture?" Paul asked as he sipped some coffee.

It was time to change the subject so Marcea stood up and said, "I'd better put the potatoes on." She moved around the kitchen and put the potatoes and another pot on the stove.

Paul could tell Marcea did not want to talk about where she met David. From what David had told him, he figured it may have been dancing in a club or something. Paul wanted to be her friend and knew not to pry. He slightly changed the subject by saying, "You said you feel guilty. Do you want to talk about that?"

Marcea came back to the table and said, "I was raised Lutheran and know that living with someone is not right. It hurts my mom. She's always preaching that I should at least get the children baptized because it's not fair to them. I used to go to church, and I want my kids to know Jesus, but since I moved in with David and all, I would just feel so guilty going to church now."

Paul said, "You know Marcea, the church embraces the sinners. That is why I started to go. I too used to sit in church hating myself. I could not figure out why I felt so guilty in church."

"That's exactly how I feel." Marcea liked Paul — he could identify with her.

"What would make someone like yourself, a priest and all, feel so guilty?"

Paul was on the spot. He now knew that David had not told her about his past. Just as he started to speak, Ann came into the kitchen.

"The movie got over," Ann said, as she sat on a chair next to Paul. Like all ten year olds, she wanted to find out what was going on. "What are you guys talking about?"

"Nothing for you to hear," Marcea said. "I want you to go back and entertain your little brother."

"We're bored," Ann was determined not to budge from her position next to Paul.

"I said for you to go into the other room with your brother," said Marcea in a firm voice.

"I don't want to."

"Please Ann, we're talking."

"No, I don't want to!"

Paul was somewhat relieved for Ann's intrusion. He looked at the two faces — one showing frustration, the other determination. A typical mother-daughter stand off. Wanting to help, Paul asked, "Ann, could you do me a favor?"

"Sure!" Ann was eager to help her new friend.

"Could you please go get that black satchel of mine that I sat on the chair when I came in?"

"Sure!" She was off in a flash.

"Thank you," said Marcea. She was troubled by the lack of control she had over her daughter and this last stand-off made her feel like more of a failure.

Ann returned with the black satchel and handed it to Paul, anxious to see what he had. Paul took out a dark blue book and on the cover were two small children looking toward the stars. Ann's eyes focused on the inviting cover. She loved reading.

Paul handed the book to her and said, "This is a special book. A friend of mine makes them. This friend almost died once, but for some reason he didn't. I think God helped him so that he could share these with kids all over the world."

Ann firmly clutched the book, intrigued by the colorful design on the jacket. She read the title out loud, "The Wonder Bible." She had heard about Bibles before but had never opened one. Now was her chance to find out about all its mysteries. She instantly sensed that it was a book of true stories that needed to be shared. "Can I go read it to Danny? He likes it when I read to him."

"Yes, you can go read to your brother," Marcea said, her voice somewhat sad. The Bible only made her feel like more of a failure. She had always meant to expose her children to a lot more about God, but just never got around to it.

An acrid smell filled the kitchen! Marcea jumped up, went to the stove and lifted a lid from a pan. Smoke billowed out! She carried the blackened pan to the sink and ran water into it. It hissed. Her head slumped and she started to cry. Marcea wiped at her tears with her apron. "I'm so worthless. I can't even cook peas."

Paul stood up, put his hand on her soft, rounded shoulder. With her head into his chest, Marcea started to pour out her feelings. "I am such a bad person. I know that I shouldn't be living with someone. And my mother is right — I should take my kids to church. Its not fair to them, not to even have them baptized." Paul's long, strong arms wrapped around her, feeling her petite body trembling against his, her tears soaking through to his chest. "I'm such a terrible person. I used to dance at a club. It was the only way I could get money when my car broke down. Then I met David and he got me out of there. I don't even know if I love David. Maybe I'm just with him for the shelter and protection, and that makes me feel like a whore."

Paul took his arms from around Marcea, stepped back and then put his hands on her bare shoulders. As he lifted her chin their eyes met, and now Paul could see how fragile Marcea really was. Her dark brown eyes reflected innocence, not sin. Tears ran down her smooth, velvet face. She trusted him and he knew it.

Vulnerable, Marcea had nothing left inside her. Paul guided her back to the table and sat opposite her. He reached across and held her hands in his. He caressed her hands and watched her. How can such a beautiful creature be in so much pain? He prayed for her.

"Jesus loves you. You need to be free of all this guilt inside yourself. God wants to free you. That is why he sent his son to die . . . for our sins."

"I have heard that before," said Marcea, tears still dropping from her face. "It just doesn't seem to work, and I do pray all the time."

Paul had met many Christians that were stuck exactly where Marcea was. They knew about God and his son but had never called upon the power of the Holy Spirit. Some ministers would call those who found the Holy Spirit 'born again.' Others referred to them as having 'found it.' Paul simply knew it as asking the power of the Holy Spirit to come into one's body and soul, which makes yielding to God's laws ingenuous. Then receiving the divine love of his son Jesus becomes a natural progression. I need to get Marcea to start attending a church where she feels loved and not guilty.

"Marcea, I need to talk to you as a priest for a few moments. I don't have much time and I want to help you to find happiness from this day forward," Paul said in genuine but firm tone.

"I just don't see any way out of my situation. And you will be gone in a few hours," said Marcea.

"Let me send you some books a friend of mine wrote about healing and wholeness. We can become pen pals, so to speak."

Marcea had felt so low for so long that she was anxious to try anything. "That would be great," she replied, her spirit already lifted. She liked Paul. He was truly trying to help, not condemning her or trying to come on to her. She had never met such a caring man. She felt that she finally had found a true friend in Paul. A smile came to her face. She now could look at Paul without shame. He was handsome, distinguished, understanding, and above all — he cared about more than the superficial. I could fall in love. She quickly buried the thought as soon as it surfaced. In addition to everything else, he was a priest.

Marcea was like putty in Paul's hands, eager and ripe for redemption and new directions. He could put her on the first rung of the ladder to happiness. Paul had to tell her the truth. He drew a deep breath looked straight into her big, wanting eyes and said, "Marcea, I have to talk to you as a disciple of God's word. I will always be your friend, but I have to be truthful with you."

"Uh, oh," Marcea softly replied, bracing for something she did not want to hear.

Paul held her hands tighter as he put his thoughts in order. Ever since he had found out that his ministry would be short lived, some of his deepest heartfelt feelings toward the church had changed. Some doctrine that at once seemed so important now meant less. Maybe the fact that he wouldn't live long enough to see it changed made him a better priest and a better Christian. His heart would always be biased toward the Catholic faith, because this was where he found the ladder to climb to share his life in Jesus. There was comfort in the wisdom that the church was the people, and all people could be saved through the blood of Jesus. It is man's own intellect, or lack of, that separates Christians. It was ironic to Paul — that so many people preached what was in God's mind, what God thought — when all Paul wanted was to submit his total mind and soul to God, unconditionally for every moment.

"Marcea, there is one thing that I feel important in your journey toward inner peace."

"What is that?" Marcea asked sheepishly

"You should start to attend church regularly. I know it is hard to get into a routine and it's not the only way, but it's the best way to get started."

It sounded simple but Marcea had tried before and never found it easy to attend church regularly. "I don't even know where there's a Catholic Church nearby. I don't want to mislead you Paul, but . . . "

Paul interrupted. "Marcea, I know there's no Catholic church nearby. I tried to find one this morning when I attended mass. But the Episcopal Church I attended this morning by the motel had a good feel to it. The priest there gave an outstanding sermon."

Marcea was stunned. "Are you telling me that I don't need to attend a Catholic church?"

"Yes, I love the Catholic faith. It is where I found my salvation, but it's not the only place you can find the true word of the Lord." The words were hard for Paul but he knew them to be the truth.

Marcea looked for another way. "What should I do, just attend any church? How will I know it's not a cult, like all the ones I see on the TV news?"

"Think of churches as health clubs — you go to a health club to get into shape and become physically stronger. Think of a church as a spiritual health club, a place to go to get spiritually stronger. There are good health clubs and bad ones, just like churches. But remember — if you work out, you will get stronger."

"Then what you want me to do is go to church to work out spiritually?"

"Exactly," replied Paul, with an expression of delight.

"But how will I know which church is preaching the truth?"

Paul welcomed this question, though his reply would make some of his fellow priests cringe. The real issue was not the continual ongoing debate over which church was correct in doctrine; it was about evangelism. If all Christian church leaders stood united and overlooked their small differences, they could foster the ecumenical wave needed to suppress the evil in today's world. "There are three important factors to determine if a church is teaching Christianity."

"What are they?"

"First of all, you know about the Trinity, don't you?"

"Of course," Marcea answered quickly, not wanting to appear completely ignorant of her own Christian background.

"Good," said Paul.

Marcea injected, "You mean, God, the Father, his son that became man and died for us, and the Holy Spirit."

Marcea's eyes were still red from crying but Paul detected a radiance and knew he was getting through to her. "Now this is the hard part for you and for me," said Paul.

"You mean the three important factors to decide if it is truly a Christian church?" asked Marcea.

"Yes, and I will put them in order. Number one has to do with God. The only thing God actually wrote himself in the Bible were the Ten Commandments. And remember, no man has a direct pipeline to God. If any church teaches differently, beware. Life would be a lot simpler if we could each toss out one of His commandments. Some churches are actually trying to do just that. Those churches are wrong; they are the ones to stay clear of. Number two has to do with Jesus. Jesus reaffirmed that we are to live by his Father's words. He preached love not anger. Jesus said to love our enemy and not pass judgment. If you hear a preacher, minister or even a fellow priest sounding like a talk show host or one of those investigative reporters, run for the door. They are not preaching love; they are instilling hate. When someone needs to tear down another faith in order to build up theirs, get out and don't look back. The words of Jesus can stand on their own — ignore those who add or take from them."

Marcea listened to every word. Wanting to be sure she understood, she said, "You are saying to look for someone who preaches about the love and compassion that Jesus taught and died for."

"Exactly!" said Paul. "And the third has to do with the third part of the Trinity, the power of the Holy Spirit."

"You make it simple to understand. A Christian church needs to preach about each part of the Trinity," Marcea said and then added, "and the Trinity is all in one. But what exactly do you mean by the power of the Holy Spirit?"

Paul tightened his large hand around Marcea's and said, "Do you mind if I show you?"

"No."

Paul bowed his head and started to pray out loud. "Dear heavenly Father, thank you for all that you have given us, and most of all thank you for sending us your son to free us. May we all become like your son Jesus and go forth on our journey with the same love and compassion that he had in his life here on earth."

Paul let loose of Marcea's hands, lifted his right hand above her head and continued, "And may the power of the Holy Spirit come upon this woman."

Marcea was overwhelmed and her tears started to flow anew. But these were not tears of self-hate and doubt — these were the tears of cleansing. She had known Paul less than an hour, but he was able to reach right into her and touch her heart like no other man had ever done. Lowering his hand and placing it over Marcea's, Paul silently prayed.

Abruptly, his prayer was interrupted by the sound of David opening the kitchen door! There was Marcea crying, and Paul hands holding hers. "What's going on in here?"

Marcea pulled her hands from beneath Paul's. "I burnt the peas and felt terrible and lost control. Paul was consoling me."

David shook his head in disbelief. "The peas? Big deal. Women! You're all too emotional."

Paul jumped in and said, " I don't even like peas."

"Me either," snorted David.

And then they all laughed.

"How long till dinner?" David asked.

"About half an hour," Marcea replied as she stood up from the table and walked to the stove.

"Good," David said. He walked over to Paul, slapping him on the back and asked, "How about a ride on my Harley?"

The word no was on Paul's tongue. He had never been on a motorcycle in his life, an aversion instilled in him by his father, who hated cycles. But he blithely responded, "Sure, why not?" They left Marcea to the kitchen and exited through the rear door.

David unveiled the bike, pushed it from beneath the carport, threw his leg over the black leather seat and pushed the starter button. The Harley came to life with the roar of thunder!

Paul's heart raced. He could feel the sound of the exhaust beating on his chest. David cracked the throttle and the engine let out a roar of awesome power. The ground shook — Paul was having second thoughts. David, straddling the massive piece of machinery, turned and yelled, "Hop on." Paul swung his leg over the seat and before he had a chance to think, David dropped the cycle into gear. There was a loud clunk and Paul was thrown backward. He grabbed David around the waist and held on for his life. They turned left out of the driveway. As David accelerated, Paul held on tighter.

The sun flashed through the canopy of trees as they wound up the country road. The air was warm and at a certain speed they left the roar from the motor behind. Paul started to relax, loosened his grip from David's large waist, and leaned back against the small backrest. Paul had never known what harmony there was in the wind. They glided along the meandering road, leaning into the corners with grace and fluidity. He could smell the trees, the grass, even the dirt of a freshly plowed field. Paul was becoming addicted to the ride. The essence of the gentle country road on a warm autumn day was something poems were written about. Paul was living the poem.

David, however, was not taking in the ride. He was on a mission. Ahead, on a corner of two roads, was a big yellow barn. David switched on the left turn signal and the bike leaned hard to the left as they turned. Paul noticed the road sign: COOLEY ROAD, and how much David was looking from side to side. Paul continued to absorb the ride — not realizing that David was searching for a clue to ease his crazed suspicions. A sign saying FOR SALE BY ROCKY MOUNTAIN REALTORS would have done just that, but there was not one to be seen on the slow ride up and then back down Cooley Road.

Finally, the roar of thunder ceased when David shut the Harley down in the driveway. Paul crawled off and stepped back to look at the machine. He would never refer to a bike as pretty again. With his heel, David snapped out a chrome kick stand, leaned the bike onto it, and then dismounted. Pulling off his helmet he asked, "What did you think? Did you feel the ride?"

Paul shook his head, unable to find words to describe the experience. "It was awesome! I felt like I was gliding through the clouds of heaven."

David slapped Paul on the back and said, "Welcome to the club."

Paul continued to gaze at the Harley. The experience had given him so much pleasure, he almost thought it sinful. He now understood something about bikers and could now relate to them.

"Let's go see if Marcea has dinner ready," David said.

The meal turned out faultless, even without the peas. Marcea was much more relaxed, Ann had a new friend, and Danny glowed in his own innocence. Paul enjoyed the home cooked food but most of all savored the feeling of being part of this extended family. David, however, was too preoccupied to really enjoy the feast and with all the attention Paul was getting almost felt left out.

After dinner, Paul and David relaxed on the sofa with the two children. Marcea finished cleaning and then joined everyone in the front room. Ann was full of questions. She suddenly had her chance to find out about God. Interrupting the after dinner small talk, she asked Paul, "If Jesus loves everybody, why did he make my little brother the way he did? Will Danny go to heaven?"

Silence fell over the room. Marcea was embarrassed. I could swat Ann for asking a question like that. Paul must think I haven't taught my children a thing about God. I need to tell him I do teach them about Jesus, that they know the real meaning of Christmas, and that we pray at bedtime.

David loved the question and the idea that this little girl could get right to the core of things. He also took a perverse interest in how Paul would respond. Lets see Paul skate out of this. He seems to have an answer for everything. This will be interesting. I know Ann won't let him off the hook with some clever quote from the Bible.

All eyes on Paul, he could feel the anticipation. How am I going to explain this to a ten-year-old child? Learned theologians argue amongst themselves about question like this. The fundamentalists would probably give her an answer that would turn her off. I need to explain it in a way that a ten-year-old can see the love of Jesus. Please God, help me, so that she will hear and understand your word.

Danny, sensing the tension looked somewhat sympathetic — not so much for himself, but for everyone else. What's the big deal? I know Jesus loves me.

Not an eye moved off Paul as he began. "Ann, sometimes it is hard for us to understand why God lets certain things happen. God loves us all and the real happiness he wants to give to us is after our life here on earth."

"I know that. That is where my puppy went when he got hit by a car, to heaven," replied Ann.

Where do I go with this? Paul asked himself. "Why do you think your puppy went to heaven?"

"Because he was good and loved us," Ann replied proudly.

"That's right, because he was good and loved everybody," Paul reassured her. "Now, how can you and your brother go to heaven?"

"We need to be good and love everyone."

"You're right, and it's that easy to get to heaven," Paul said. "Now, are you always good? Do you always obey? Or do you sometimes stomp off mad or even run from your mother?"

"Well . . . sometimes I don't do what mom says. And sometimes I pretend I didn't hear her."

"Now, what about Danny? Does he run off and disobey? Does he get himself into much trouble?" Paul quizzed Ann.

"No, because he can't," replied Ann reluctantly.

"Well, see how it is easier for Danny to be obedient here on earth so that he can have fun in Heaven forever?"

Paul seemed to have all the answers, thought David. How'd he get so smart? I was sure Ann's question would have trapped him. He's kind of irritating.

It took a lot for Marcea to sit still. That was beautiful. I never thought about Danny's handicap as keeping his soul pure. He will be rewarded and walk with Jesus someday. I wish Paul could stay here longer. He makes me feel so good. I wish I could go to the church he preaches at. He makes God sound so forgiving and understanding. I hope David is understanding some of this and wants to find out about God.

Danny hadn't taken his eyes from Paul and had listened to his every word. I always knew this. I just wish more people could feel the kind of love Jesus gives me. He's with me right now.

Ann bounced on the edge of the sofa, somewhat content with Paul's explanation. Danny someday will have so much fun. Then we can run and play forever in Heaven. But what about what Grandma said?

Paul broke the stillness, "I hope, Ann, that you understand. Sometimes it's hard to know why God lets certain things happen. Just remember to trust in Him."

"I kind of understand, but my grandma said we have to be baptized to go to Heaven," replied Ann.

Paul started to respond but held his tongue. Ann was asking a serious question and he didn't want to confuse her, or tell her that her grandmother meant well but was wrong. Marcea sat there feeling guilty, wishing she would have heeded her mother's advice. Her own stubbornness and antagonism toward her mother were the main reasons the children had not been baptized.

David leaned back into the sofa, eager to see how Paul would get out of this.

A flash seemed to go off in Paul's mind. He turned toward Marcea and said, "Marcea, I would like to repay you for the wonderful meal you prepared."

Marcea thought Paul was trying to change the subject and played along, "It was my pleasure. I couldn't accept anything."

Paul didn't want to seem pushy but he asked, "If it is all right with you, I would like to repay you by baptizing your son."

Marcea's heart raced. She didn't even have to think for the answer. "That would be wonderful!"

"Good," said Paul. "It will be my gift for dining with you and your beautiful children."

Glowing, Marcea asked, "Should we set a date when you will be back? David said you were flying back in the morning."

"I was thinking about right now," said Paul.

"Cool," said Ann.

Marcea was exuberant and turned to Danny. "Would that be okay with you?" A huge smile came to Danny's face as he joyously moved his head up and down. Now she turned to David and asked, "What do you think, David?"

David had never seen such a radiance about Marcea and such a quick affirmative response by Danny. He vacillated for a moment but then answered, "Sure, why not. I should make a phone call anyway."

Paul understood David's reluctance. This was sacred and a very important moment for Marcea, Ann and especially Danny. Paul cornered David into staying by asking, "David, could you hold off on your phone call for a few minutes? I will need a witness."

Sensing he was being railroaded, David glared at Marcea and then said, "Okay." But his reluctance had quickly changed the mood of joy and expectancy to one of guarded tension.

Paul found his black satchel on a chair next to the front door. He knew he had to take charge and said, "Bring Danny into the kitchen and we can baptize him in there."

Marcea turned Danny in his wheelchair and pushed him into the kitchen. Ann followed, not sure of what was going on. David was the last to enter. Paul laid out a book on the counter along with a small flask. He asked for a candle and a clean towel. Marcea opened a cupboard and handed him one dinner candle, left and then returned with a white bath towel. Paul blessed the candle, then genuflected. He laid the folded towel in the bottom of the sink basin. Paul bowed his head and prayed silently. A cool stillness came over the kitchen as a spiritual presence filled the room. Marcea was standing in the center of the kitchen, her hands still on the handles on Danny's wheelchair. Ann was leaning against Marcea, expectantly. David, with a disgusted look, was keeping his distance, resting his shoulder against the refrigerator and staying behind everyone.

"Do you have a baptismal name you would like to give Danny?" asked Paul.

Marcea thought and then said, "Yes, David. I like the name David."

"Is that for the family of David, or King David in the Bible?" asked Paul.

"Neither. It is after David J. McIntosh, for everything he has done for my family. David is closest to a father my son Danny has ever known."

David, normally an unemotional person, felt as though he had been shot through the heart. Marcea had never talked like that before, so movingly and sincerely. He moved close to her and put his hand on her shoulder. Paul lit the candle and made the sign of the cross in front of the four of them. He held his hand above Danny's head and said, "God, today before you, on this day comes Danny to give himself to you in baptism. With your love, grace and almighty power, may he become one of your children, and my Christian brother. Please let the Holy Spirit fill his soul and guide him on his journey till he is glorified in your divine love."

Paul blew out the candle and handed it to Marcea. He needed to lift Danny from his chair but remembered David's request: Don't touch the children. He looked David straight on and asked, "Could you lift Danny next to the sink so I can pour some Holy Water over his head?"

David, still unable to speak, nodded. He slid his massive arms under Danny's frail body and lifted him from his chair. David walked to the sink and rested Danny's hips on the counter with his head over the sink. Danny's big hazel eyes stared up at David, his straight red hair draped back exposing his forehead. Paul felt something on his right side. It was Ann, bursting with curiosity and not wanting to miss anything. Paul poured some Holy Water from the flask onto Danny's head. As the water ran off Danny's head, it was caught by the white towel in the sink. Paul said, "With this water cleanse Danny of the sin of man. I baptize him in the name of the Father, God; the son, Jesus; and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Danny smiled. David felt a tingling sensation in his arms, similar to the other morning when Paul prayed over him up on the mountain. David wanted to shrug off the sensation. It scared him, but at the same time, it comforted him. He still could not speak.

"You can put Danny down now," Paul told David.

David lifted Danny from the counter and hugged him. Danny hugged him back. David fought back the unexpected tears. Joy and happiness settled upon everyone in the kitchen as the grace of God poured forth love.

"Can I be baptized now?" asked Ann, jubilant and wanting to join in the ceremony.

"I would like to baptize you also, Ann," said Paul, as he squatted down to be eye to eye with her. "But it would be better if you let me send you some books to read first."

"Well, okay," Ann said, disappointedly.

Paul continued, "And when you get baptized you could ask your grandma to come. It should be like a party, but you should know what the party is all about."

The thought of a party excited Ann. "When will you send me the books?"

"Tomorrow, as soon as I get home. I'll send them along with your mother's towel after I cleanse it," said Paul. "And if it is okay with you, we can become pen pals. I could use a friend as smart as you."

"Great! I'm going to go start my first letter right now." Ann darted from the kitchen.

David put Danny back in his chair and said, "Let's go back out into the front room."

David pushed Danny into the frontroom and Paul followed. Marcea came in a few minutes later with fresh apple pie, and its spicy aroma added a homey feeling as they ate. A bond of love formed. They laughed, they talked, and they enjoyed one another.

Ann came down the hall from her room. "I got my first letter to you done, but I need your address. And can I have some pie?"

While Paul wrote down his address Marcea said, "You kids need to get ready for bed, soon. There's school tomorrow."

Ann started to whine. Paul knew it was time for him to go. He wished he could stay longer but stood and said, "I should get going. I want to thank all of you for having me to a wonderful dinner."

David stood up. "I'll get my truck keys."

Paul moved toward the front door and slipped on his jacket. Marcea and Ann followed him to the door. Paul wanted to give them a hug but he would honor David's request. It was hard to just stand there. Everyone had become close. This was a difficult good-bye. David entered from the back of the room and saw the three standing by the door. He went over to Danny, who now shared his name, turned him around and wheeled him toward the door.

Marcea started with the good-bye. "I want to thank you for everything, most of all what you did for Danny."

Ann jumped in, "Here is your Bible. Thank you for letting me use it. It's real neat, that it's for kids."

Paul looked down at Ann and said, "I want you to have that Bible. It is my gift to you."

Ann wanted to give Paul a big thank you hug, but he stood so tall and almost aloof, she didn't try. Not knowing what else to say, she asked, "Do you have anything for Danny?"

"Ann! Shame on you," Marcea said.

Paul looked down at Danny, his rosy cheeks puffed up from a big grin, in anticipation of a gift. Paul wished he had something, as Danny had given him a great gift. Without thinking, Paul reached under his collar and pulled a chain up and over his head. Danny's wide hazel eyes didn't even blink. Paul squatted down in front of him and showed him the silver metal with the risen Christ on it. He turned it over and read the inscription on the back to himself one last time.

Unsure of how much Danny could comprehend, Paul said, "Danny, a special woman gave me this a long time ago. She was a nun that was working in the Army hospital where I was recuperating. I was wounded in the leg and lost all feeling in my left arm. I was in a wheelchair just like yours."

Danny's grin turned somber and Paul knew Danny understood every word. He understood more than most, as he had the innocence that most people lacked. It was hard for Danny to get the words out. "Tell more?" he requested.

It was the first time Paul heard Danny speak. Most of the time people insulted Danny by ignoring him or talking to him in a loud, slow tone as if he were stupid. So Danny had taught himself to listen but say little. Even at his young age he had figured out that what most people talked about was so trivial. But Paul was different. He knew how strong God was inside his soul.

"You started it. You better finish your story," David said.

Paul put the chain around Danny's neck and continued. "I had been in a wheelchair for about eight weeks, so bitter that nobody wanted to talk to me. I knew that I would be able to walk again but because I would never get the feeling back in my left arm, I would never be able to play football again. This small beautiful woman dressed in her blue and white habit came in and talked to me every day about football. She loved the Notre Dame team. This Sister knew that talking about football hurt me, but what she was doing was teaching me to face the facts and get over my own self pity. The day I checked out of the hospital she gave me this medal and I never saw her again." Paul paused while he thought of her. For the last six years he had tried to locate that heavenly woman, to thank her. But it was a futile search; she almost seemed not to have existed.

Danny held the medal and noticed some worn writing on the back. "What does this say?"

Paul could recite it from memory and for the millionth time, he recited the engraving: "You can always play on God's team."

Danny looked closer and now could make out the words. He read them out loud. "You can always play on God's team."

"Now Danny, you and I are teammates."

Danny smiled and extended his arms toward Paul.

Paul smiled and stood up. This good-bye was so hard.

"The least you could do, is to give the child a hug good-bye," said David.

Paul bent over and hugged Danny. When their heads were close, Danny whispered in his ear. "Thank you. Mary knows you joined the team."

Paul didn't recall mentioning her name! He started to run back through the conversation but was almost knocked over by Ann, also wanting a hug. While Paul hugged Danny, Ann put one arm around Danny and one on Paul, making a three-way hug. Paul thanked God for this unconditional love.

David looked at the trio and felt confident that he made the right choice. He could actually feel the love radiating from the three. Then he

looked over at Marcea and noticed a glow to her that he had never seen before. Marcea seemed more beautiful than ever . . . and at peace. The source of love was present among them all.

 

 

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