Friday, December 28, 2007

His Treasure

Last night Abigail didn’t get enough sleep. In fact she was sleep-deprived for the week, for various reasons. And she was tired of trying to excel in life, tired of paying attention. The spiritual weight of decisions was wearying her. Without proper expression for spiritual exhaustion, she manifest the feeling by sitting down in a chair, alone in the church foyer, and telling herself that she really needed to cry. No tears came.

A swarm of hungry people were filling Styrofoam plates with little smokies, deviled eggs, cookies, and various unrelated potluck dishes in the church’s fellowship hall. Abigail had just received a bit of news that needed processing before she joined the crowd. When she walked down there one of two things would happen: she would either feel immensely lonely, surrounded by dozens of people ignoring her, or she would pretend to be alright when someone noticed her. She could pretend, but she hated to.

So until she composed herself, sufficiently surrendering this new weight to God through rapid, almost unintelligible thought-prayers, she would stay here in the still hall. No one would miss her; no one could help; and it didn’t matter.

But that was the old reality. Now there was someone who would sit by her if she were at the fellowship meal, someone who didn’t need her to pretend to be alright, and someone who noticed she was gone. Matt came looking. The walk was short, and unhurried. After all, the meal wasn’t mandatory, and he wasn’t really worried that anything horrible had happened to her. Glancing first towards the closed and dark sanctuary, and then round the perimeter, he soon saw her. She sat in one of those pretty, deceptive chairs that promise overstuffed comfort, but whose cushions refuse to yield when you sit in one. The backs are stiff, affixed at the wrong angle, and cheaply made. Yet they give a room a decorator-defined atrium look, so churches buy them.

His treasure sat wedged into a corner, sitting straight, but with her head tipped back against the winged headrest. Her mouth was open a bit, and her eyes were closed. This morning had been crazily busy, between Sunday school and friends and the various errands that occupy church in the mornings distracting men from God and His people. So this was the first time he observed her. How had he stopped mentally photographing Abigail’s every image? Now she sat, her long, full skirt exhibiting a natural grace that belonged both to it and its treasured owner. Unbidden, his mind called her “his treasure.” Each time he rationalized it. They were only courting. Nothing was certain. That was the whole point. But he knew he loved her, and didn’t Proverbs say that a good wife was worth more that rubies? The blouse she wore, even askew, was modest, and drew his attentive eyes up to her face. Her open mouth made him laugh quietly to himself again.

Sleep was so peaceful. She must be worn out. Part of that was his fault. He was stressing her out. Unable to help himself, he’d been in a pattern of assured future alternating with self-doubt and second-guessing. She refused to let him pretend everything was normal. “I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t mean something,” she’d told him. “Well, I’ll play games and do things that don’t mean a lot, but I don’t want to do anything that means the opposite of reality. If things aren’t ok, and we need to be praying, I don’t want to just hang out and watch a movie.” Matt thought that meant she loved him – the real way.

Sliding into the equally uncomfortable seat on the other side of a potted plant and ministry flyer coffee table, he reflected that he knew what Abigail meant. They were courting now because he had realized that no matter what, he wanted to be there for her. He’d wanted to help her, to cheer her up, and… just be there. He wouldn’t take distractions for a substitute. And after he had started, Matt realized that exercising real love, like a brother in Christ should, had opened an entirely different and unexpected door. As he shifted, half of his brain wondering who manufactures foyer chairs, and the other half continuing his philosophical musings, he realized that once again, he was where he was because he wanted to push through and get to the real her.

Abigail wasn’t deeply asleep. When his foot slipped from the leverage that was keeping him comfortable in his chair, and hit the leg of the table, she opened her eyes. Raising her head and sitting up straighter, she finally got the message that her mouth was open and deliberately closed it into a smile. Seeing the change that had arisen between them since being fellow church members to trusted friends was a mystery. Being awakened from less-than-elegant posture didn’t leave her self conscious. She wasn’t even shy.

“What’s up?” he asked, dragging his reluctant eyes from the pattern in the carpet that half-matched, half-clashed with the colors in the upholstery. He cued a piercing gaze that told her he was masking seriousness in casual.

Peace dropped off of her face like a disguise at a masquerade. “Oh, everything. I don’t know what we’re going to do with Sunday school. Joan’s not going to teach. But I don’t want her to feel badly. It isn’t her. It’s everyone. Nobody is to blame. God is just bringing my need-to-be-made decisions all together, and I’m overwhelmed. He hasn’t told me what to do yet. I’m glad he told some people what they should do, you know?”

She wished he’d wrap her in his arms. If he asked her to marry him, she thought for the thousandth time, she’d say, “Tomorrow.” But as long as the longing to be held was the driving force behind her enthusiasm, she was deep down glad that he hadn’t asked. Anyway, if he held her, she wouldn’t be able to see that tender glance: the one she hoped was part of his character and not just a romantic side effect. Someday she’d see him offer it to their children. Her cheeks flushed, and her distracted eyes slipped a cautious look back at him. Caught! He’d noticed she wasn’t paying attention.

In fact he’d caught a bit more than that. God blessed him with insight into the spiritual struggles of those he loved and prayed for. The extra copper tinting on the tips of her ears, which made her look a bit elven, told him she hadn’t been taking her thoughts captive. Not that it was wrong to think of things like being a parent. There were just safer times emotionally to do such things. When he got embarrassed his temples burned, and he wondered absently if her ear tips were warmer now. Someday, if he remembered, he’d brush his finger against it when she blushed, and find out.

Now he was doing it! They had to get out of there. There wasn’t much more he could say to answer her dilemma. Usually she already knew every side to the story. “It’s just hard,” she’d explain, warding off further lectures or fix-it suggestions. Instead, he directed her towards food. “You’re grumpy when you’re hungry,” he said.

To God be all glory.

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