Chapter Eighteen: Into the Light

 

As the weather started to cool into fall and the leaves began to turn into splashes of red and gold, Callie was pleasantly busy with her job, the Fall Festival, the book club, and a food drive for the church’s food bank.

In the back of her mind, she thought more and more about her mother’s things in storage. She didn’t feel comfortable doing that with Aunt Phoebe there, at least not for the first time. But she knew Aunt Phoebe would want to look through the things. So she needed to do it before Aunt Phoebe got here.

She knew who she wanted with her when she faced the things that had been packed up last May. But while she saw Hank at church and often at the Sunday dinners afterward, she rarely saw him elsewhere anymore. If she did, it always seemed to be by accident, and never lasted more than a few minutes. She texted him from time to time, but the exchanges were short and never resulted in a phone call.

She couldn’t understand it. He wasn’t angry with her. When they were near each other, he was always attentive and supportive just like always. But it was like a wall had been set up, creating a distance between them that hadn’t been there before.

Callie sighed. Maybe it was because she was healing, and she didn’t need him as much as before. He sensed that and was letting her go. She buried her face in her hands. It was true that she didn’t need to see him, to physically touch him as much as she had last summer, but she would always need him.

What a mess.

But for the most part, she did well. The Fall Festival was a big success and there was already talk of a church Thanksgiving dinner and a town Christmas ball sometime in December. She was happy to be involved in all the planning.

One Sunday in October, she stayed by herself in the nave to pray. Hank had attended church as usual, looking for her first in a crowd to make sure she was okay as usual – but also distant as usual. She poured out her heart to the Lord. Why this distance, God? Is he really just trying to be helpful? I thought we were at least friends. I thought he cared about me as a friend, he’s been so kind, he always was there when I needed him, whenever I asked him for something. Sure, I’ve always had a big crush on him, and I know he doesn’t feel the same way about me. But there was something else, something more – a connection that was soul deep. Is that really gone? Does it have to be? Is this Your will, or something else, something You can fix? What am I going to do without that?

She sat back, rubbing her eyes. Then a voice spoke behind her. “Miss Callie!” She jumped, startled, then turned around. “Oh, Mr. Toscopoulos! I thought I was alone.”

He apologized. “I sensed you were troubled and wondered if maybe I could help.”

“I don’t think so,” Callie smiled kindly, “but I appreciate your offer.”

Mr. Toscopoulos nodded. “It is always hard when we don’t understand something. I think it all comes down to trust.”

“Trust?”

“Always trust,” he nodded again. “Let’s say you have a close friend and they do things you don’t understand. Do you trust that they are doing what’s best?”

She felt a chill go down her back. “Yessss.” She would trust Hank with her life.

“Would you trust them to take care of you, to do what’s right for you?”

“Yes,” she said firmly.

“Good. Now what about God? Do you trust that He is doing what’s best?”

Callie flushed, her face feeling hot. “Most of the time.”

“Ah,” he nodded, resting his forefinger against his nose. “Do you trust Him to take care of you, to do what’s right for you?”

She looked down at the back of the wooden pew in front of her. After a long moment, she whispered, “No.”

“There you see. It all comes down to trust.” She looked up to find him smiling with great affection. “What you can do with one, you can do with the other. Do not be afraid. Be courageous.”

“Joshua,” she nodded. “That was our VBS theme.”

“This I know. Remember what else he said: ‘As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’ I meditate on that sometimes.”

She thought for a moment. “Mr. Toscopoulos, if you had a friend – a really close friend – who was acting strangely, would you leave him alone for a while, you know, let him have some space?”

He nodded approvingly. “It is never good to be alone. You know this. You know what you needed. Perhaps this friend is no different.” He stood up, shaking out his topcoat. “You may not be aware of it, but you have the answers you need. By the way, I appreciate all you have been doing in the church. You are very talented. I knew I was right about you.”

She blushed. “Thank you, Mr. Toscopoulos. I just care about people, and the rest is easy.”

He smiled again, patted her shoulder, then walked away.

Callie sat there for a long time, thinking about what Mr. Toscopoulos had said. Then her phone vibrated in her coat pocket. She fished it out and groaned – she forgot about Sunday dinner! “Hi Anne, I am so sorry! I got delayed at church … no, I’m afraid not, I have to go home and do something right away … no, no trouble, just something I need to take care of … yes, I’m fine, thanks, don’t worry …. Okay, thanks!” She hung up, then hurried out of the church to go home.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Once home, she shrugged off her coat and rushed downstairs to the prayer room. She wrote down everything Mr. Toscopoulos had said to her. Then she read them over and over.

Her attention snagged on what Mr. Toscopoulos said about being alone. “You know what you needed. Perhaps your friend is no different.”

She needed to be in contact with Hank, to be near him. Did Hank need that too? She thought of all the times he had looked out for her. Had she ever done that for him? She was ashamed to admit she had not. She didn’t seek him out to see if he was all right, but only to feel better herself.

She remembered something else he said and scanned through the pages until she found it. “What you can do with one, you can do with the other. Do not be afraid. Be courageous.”

If she could trust Hank, why couldn’t she trust God?

She had the answer instantly. She was afraid. Afraid of not having her way. Afraid He would not do what she wanted; afraid she would not have control.

Don’t be afraid. Be courageous.

Oh Lord, she sighed. I have so messed up.

She started making a list. First, pay more attention to Hank and what he needed. Watch more attentively, like he did. Quietly do what she could to make things easier for him. Put Hank above her own needs.

“What you can do with one, you can do with the other.”

She made another list. Pay more attention to God and what He wants. Put God above her own needs. She put a star by that one.

She’d have to wait to work her list for Hank, but she could start her God list right away. She clasped her hands together and bowed her head.

Lord, this is so scary. But I want to be courageous.

I trust You.

I still want to do things myself, but I will put You first and I will try to follow what You want as best I can.

I will watch for knocks on the door, for invitations to do the right thing and follow the right path.

I love You, God, with all my heart and with all my soul. I am Yours.

Please help me to be strong.

She raised her head and took a deep breath. She wrote her prayer down in her prayer journal, closed it carefully, and went back upstairs. Sunshine was streaming in through the window and she suddenly felt lighter, happier. She turned her face to the sun and smiled. Thank You, Lord!

She noticed her coat where she had let it fall to the floor and picked it up. Her phone slipped out of its pocket and dropped on the floor. Picking it up, she saw the message light blinking. Must be Anne, she thought, swiping to see her notifications.

She opened the message. It was from Hank, about a half hour or so ago. She was still in the prayer room then.

Everything okay?

A smile lit up her face. He’d known something was up. At least he still cared about her. Thank You, God.

If the connection was still there, then he would know she was more than okay now.

She wanted to talk to him about her decision to trust God, but should she even ask? Maybe he just wanted to know that he was okay so he could go on with his own business.

She remembered his looking intently into her eyes; “I will always be there for you, Callie. If I can help, you must ask me. You would be doing me wrong otherwise. Promise me?”

She had promised. She would do what he asked.

Be courageous, she reminded herself.

Sorry, I was in my prayer room. I’m fine. I want to talk with you about it. Can we meet?

She took another deep breath and hit Send.

A few seconds passed. Suddenly she felt a surge of relief – but it wasn’t her. Her eyes widened - that was him! She was sure of it. She’d never felt anything like that before.

His response flashed on the screen. Any time. When and where?

Her fingers flew over the keyboard. Now please? Not sure where best

I know a place we can talk in private I’ll come get you

Okay, I’m at my house

She was about to put the phone number when another message popped up in the thread. Thanks for remembering about asking

She smiled. I promised

 

 

~~~

 

 

She was sitting outside on the steps, huddled in her coat. She’d left a message for Mina, explaining everything was okay and she had to go out for a few hours, not to worry.

Hank’s truck came up the street and parked in the driveway. He came around to open the door and help her in. She smiled her thanks and then looked at him, really looked at him. Was he okay? Did he need something?

There were lines of strain around his crystal grey eyes, but the rest of his face seemed all right – strong features, a mouth on the verge of a smile, the grey eyes curious.

“Buckle your seatbelt,” he smiled and closed the door.

She obeyed and they headed out of town. He drove to the county park by the river and parked near a shelter. “The park’s still open, but nobody comes out here this time of year,” he explained. She sat down at one of the picnic tables in the shelter and he sat down across from her. “If it gets too cold, let me know – we can sit in the truck and I’ll run the heater.”

“I’m fine,” she assured him with a smile. Her smile widened a little when she saw him studying her, much as she had studied him. “Something’s different,” he announced.

“It is,” she nodded. “I’m not sure where to start, so bear with me, okay?”

He nodded, his eyes never leaving her face.

“I was at the church, I stayed to pray.” She looked down. “I was … distressed. I asked God to help me know what to do – what He wanted me to do.” She looked up with an embarrassed smile. “I wasn’t making a whole lot of sense.”

“I felt that,” he said hesitantly. “Like May, but not as bad.”

“That’s about right,” she agreed. “Is that when you texted?”

He shook his head. “It seemed to ease off and then you told Mom you were all right. But after we didn’t hear anything else, well … I had to know for sure. That’s when I sent the text.”

“And then I didn’t answer,” she sighed. The lines of strain around his eyes had deepened while he talked. But lines like that developed over longer than just a day. How could she have missed that? “I am so sorry,” she said, filled with remorse.

He smiled reassuringly. “Not your fault, it just happened that way. As you can see, somehow I survived,” he joked.

She smiled. “Thanks.”

“So, you were praying at the church,” he prompted.

“Oh, yes, well, I was getting ready to leave and Mr. Toscopoulos was sitting behind me. He’s a very strange sort of man,” she added.

“He’s very smart and way too perceptive,” Hank shrugged.

“Anyway, he talked with me, and it all related to what I had been praying about. I don’t know how he knew that – I wasn’t praying out loud. Anyway, he said it all boils down to trust. He asked if I trusted God to take care of me and to be there for me.” She looked down, twisting her hands together. “I had to admit I didn’t.”

She saw his hand close firmly over hers. “That was very courageous,” he said quietly.

She looked up with a smile to reply and was caught in his gaze. She saw he wanted to comfort her but there was more there, admiration and … fondness? His words reached her and she answered, “That’s what Mr. Toscopoulos said. To be courageous.”

He nodded but didn’t remove his hand. Now he seemed just interested, and maybe a little excited. “So I went home to the prayer room and I wrote down everything he said to me. I read it over and over again. And what struck me was …” she hesitated.

He arched an eyebrow.

“Mr. Toscopoulos told me ‘what you can do for one, you can do for the other.’ So I started thinking about all the ways I trusted – another person,” she amended, “and I applied that to God. That showed me pretty quickly where I was messing up. It was fear that kept me from trusting God. So I made a list.” They shared a smile – of course she did.

Her voice was steady as she told him about her prayer, but began to shake as she concluded, “Then I said I love Him, with all my heart and with all my soul. I said, ‘I am Yours.’”

Joy broke over his face like a sunrise. “Callie, I have wanted you to have that peace for so long.”

“I wanted you to know,” she nodded.

He raised an eyebrow. “You should be happy. What’s going on?”

“Hank,” she said seriously, “do you ever get scared? I’m afraid I’ll mess up, not trust Him when I should. But I gave Him my word.”

He smiled warmly. “We’re going to make mistakes, Callie. Not one of us is perfect. He knows that. But He loves you anyway. Just love Him back. Every time, you mess up, just love Him enough to try again. He’ll understand. At least, that’s how I see it.”

“Oh!” She hadn’t looked at it that way.  She’d been thinking about her trust in Hank and her trust in God, and Mr. Toscopoulos was right – what she could do for one, she could do for the other. But the reasons were entirely different. She trusted Hank because she loved him, who he was. But Hank was right. She trusted God because He loved her – and not for who she was, but in spite of her imperfections. She smiled in relief. “Of course. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” he grinned.

She smiled shyly. “Well, I just wanted to share all that with you. I guess I should be getting back home.”

She noticed the strain lines were back. He nodded, his grin fading to a slight smile. “Sure.”

Hmm. “Hank, would you like to go somewhere else? Do you want to go somewhere to get a coffee or something?”

“What would you like to do?”

“I asked first,” she challenged. “What would you do if you could do anything at all in the world?”

He seemed to be undecided – something she could never remember seeing in him before. Finally, reluctantly, he confessed, “If it were left up to me, I’d stay here and talk with you.”

“Then let’s stay,” she said happily.

“But I thought –“

“I thought you wanted to go,” she interrupted. “I didn’t want to.”

He studied her thoughtfully.

She felt she could at least tell him part of it, the part he would understand. “I’ve been thinking. You are always looking out for me. You rescue me, find ways to please me, always support me. But when have I ever done that for you?”

“You’ve had a lot on your plate,” he protested.

“I grant you, I was a mess after Mom … passed away. But that was then, this is now.” Her chin came up. “I think it’s time to make this more 50-50.”

He shook his head wonderingly. “What brought this on?”

She wasn’t willing to go that far. “Do you often look gift horses in the mouth, Mr. McDonald?”

“No, ma’am!” he said quickly.

She nodded approvingly, then broke down into giggles. “I can’t help it,” she apologized, “the – the sense of power – just went to my head!”

They both started laughing, and every time one of them started to stop, that one would look at the other and start laughing again. Finally, they managed to both stop at the same time, and they sat, gasping for air and wiping tears from their eyes.

Callie noticed with great satisfaction that the lines of strain around his eyes had faded, at least for now.

 

 

 Chapter Seventeen   Chapter Nineteen ⇒

 

"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford