© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen
Chapter 6: The Importance of a Gift
Robert went to Lester Chapel Church for the Sunday evening service as he had told Penny he would do. His mind was busy, more so than usual, throughout the service. He did not actually concentrate on the service as much as he normally was in the practice of doing.
It was not an easy thing to simply shake off the feeling of confusion about the telephone call which Penny had received only a few hours earlier. Robert could understand the idea of not feeling close to a parent. He, himself, did not feel close to his father and never had felt the bond that some sons feel with their fathers. Still, if his dad had called him with a desperate-sounding message, Robert felt sure that he would give it serious consideration. He was sure that he would return such a call. Penny’s refusal to return her father’s call seemed less than honorable. She must have some pretty terrific problems in her background to have such negative feelings for her father and her sister.
He wondered if Penny would request prayer about the situation when the pastor asked if anyone had requests. She did not.
After the service ended, the two of them got together as everyone expected them to do anymore. In fact, the pastor’s wife suggested, “Robert, why don’t you sit with Penny during the services? I mean, we all know that you are seeing a lot of each other - - just a suggestion.”
Robert glanced toward Penny, just to see if there was any type of reaction. She had a big smile. By that, he knew that she had been wondering the same thing.
“OK, I will,” promised Robert a bit shyly. “I see no reason not to. Just watch, Thursday night I’ll be up front and on the right side of the aisle instead of where I usually sit.”
“Attaboy!” shrieked Beulah. Robert doubted if she even knew how to speak in a softer voice.
As Robert and Penny used the last few moments to talk together before the pastor announced his need to be leaving, Robert could not help but say something about the phone call which Penny had received earlier.
“I was praying for you this afternoon,” he told her. “I even forgot to squirt the cat with milk this evening while I was milking the cow. I squirt her every evening but forgot this time. I was thinking and sort of praying in my mind.”
“Why?” she asked. “Have I done something to make you doubt my spirituality?” It was a question in jest; she was as jolly as usual, apparently having forgotten the call.
“No,” he answered. “You know, about the call. It may be really an urgent problem in your family. So, I decided to do all that I know to do, and that is to talk to God about it.”
Losing her big smile momentarily, Penny said, “I and my sister, Julie, have not spoken for over a year and a half. I love her a lot, but she decided that there’s something about me that does not deserve any love and respect from her. I don’t know what my dad is up to, but it sounds kind of strange to me.” She paused, thinking deeply. Then, with a return of her big smile, she continued, “If there’s anything really serious, and if I find out about it, I’ll let you know. OK?”
“OK. If you say so,” replied the young man as he tried to remove any signs of worry from his countenance.
Of course, Lila was up when he got home from the service, and she wanted to know if he learned anything more.
“Not much, Mom,” Robert told her. “She said that she and her sister haven’t been on good terms for over a year. Penny thinks her dad is tricking her in some way. Really, I don’t understand their situation at all. I’m going to pray about it a lot, though, just in case it is serious.”
Robert worked the next four days and did the usual things, milking the cow at night, studying for his one college class a while, and even attended the Buckingham prayer service on Wednesday night.
The small crowd of worshippers at Buckingham Church were surprised when Robert came through the doors that Wednesday night.
“Well, the prodigal has come home,” teased Sister Liming, the pastor of the little community church. “We about gave up on seeing you again, Robert.”
“Sorry, but I’ve been spreading myself too thin and decided to try to settle down and try to find one church to call my home church,” he explained, feeling a bit guilty.
She gave him a quick, little hug and said, “I was only joshing, Brother Lewis. We really are glad to see you here tonight. We think a lot of you and want God’s best for you always.”
Several voices expressed agreement with Mrs. Liming’s sentiments. Robert felt quite at home here, as he always had. After all, although the church was not officially of any denomination, Mrs. Liming and her family were all very much Quakers. At that thought, Robert again briefly wondered about the few negatively toned expressions which came from Penny the previous Sunday around the lunch table.
When prayer time came around, Robert stood to his feet. “I have a concern which I would like for all of you to remember as you pray tonight,” he said. “I don’t feel I should say any more about it at this time. Let’s just say it is an unspoken prayer request. God knows what it is. I will appreciate your prayers.”
“Of course,” agreed the lady pastor. She was a model of propriety at all times, very professional, very discreet and very concerned about the few people whom she felt God had entrusted to her care. “God knows what this need is. We will remember Robert’s request as we pray. Does anyone else have an expression of need?” Seeing none, she suggested, “As many of us who can, let us kneel for our time of prayer tonight. I’ll not ask anyone in particular to lead the prayer. Just feel free to obey the Spirit.”
This was very much the custom anyhow, both here at Buckingham and at the St. Leon Friends Meeting. Often, the time of prayer lasted twenty minutes or even longer. And, Robert loved this part of the service. One person would usually feel he or she should pray aloud. After this prayer, often there would be a few minutes of silence until another worshipper felt that God would be pleased to have him voice his petitions toward Heaven. It was typical Quaker style. Usually, Robert did not pray aloud. Perhaps he was too shy. Perhaps he was afraid his words would not be the best words for the occasion. He seldom prayed aloud. And even this night at Buckingham, he prayed silently when he was not listening in on another person’s prayer. He was praying for Penny and about the phone call. He knew no more so could not pray very explicitly. He echoed what he heard in Sister Liming’s prayer, that God’s will would be accomplished in the situation.
The next day, which would be called ‘fifth day’ by the Quakers, Robert was eager for evening to arrive. He felt sure that Penny would try to be present in the prayer service at Lester Chapel. Just before he left home, he received a phone call. He felt uneasy about it but answered, suspecting it may be from Penny. It wasn’t.
When he answered the phone, he heard his mother’s familiar voice, “Robert, Son, it’s Mom. I aimed to leave a note on the table for you but forgot. I wondered if you would want to invite Penny to come for Thanksgiving Dinner at our home. What do you think?”
“I think it sounds great!” he answered. “Her family is so far away, and I’m sure she has little money for traveling very far. I’ll ask her if she’s there tonight.”
“And, I know it’s not my business, but I’d like to know if something bad has happened in her family,” Lila said with some hesitation.
“I’ll let you know if I find out anything, Mom,” he replied. “It’s OK. I think we are all kind of anxious about that call on Sunday. See you later. Bye.”
Penny was present at the evening service. She even got into the church house before the pastor and his family. Robert noticed that she was not carrying her clarinet case this time. He caught her eye immediately, as he was sitting on the right side of the aisle as he had agreed to do. She gave him her wide smile and quickly sat beside him. Her expression did not give any evidence of problems in her life so Robert assumed that she had not heard any more about her family’s attempt to call her a few days earlier.
“I decided to sit with you and sing tonight,” she told Robert. “After all, I haven’t heard you sing at all because I always go up front and play the clarinet during the singing. Tonight, I’ll find out how good a bass voice you have.”
Slightly embarrassed at the thought of his singing being judged, he replied, “Maybe I’ll get to hear you, too.” No more was said until after the service.
Since Penny seemed as jolly as usual, Robert relaxed and entered into the service with his mind and his heart, putting forth his usual effort to truly worship. That was his practice for every service. That’s why he attended the services, to worship.
When the benediction signaled the close of the service, it was easier than usual for the couple to begin talking as they were already sitting together. They simply remained in their pew and talked.
After the polite things were all said, Robert decided to redeem the time since all too soon the pastor would call to Penny, saying it was time to head for Adrian.
“Well, I’ve been wondering all week if you’d heard any more about your sister,” he began.
“I expected you to ask something like that,” Penny remarked. “I talked to Ramona, my friend at college. She took the original call on Sunday. She says that my dad was trying to reach me about Julie having some medical emergency or such. I’ve had some trouble with him, what little contact I’ve had with him so I have genuine doubts about his message about Julie.”
With concern showing, Robert asked, “Did you call him, or Julie? That seems to be the best way to get to the bottom of all this.”
“No, I didn’t!” she replied with some display of having been offended by his query.
“I’m sorry if I got out of place, Penny,” Robert offered. “It’s just that it makes sense to me to try to find out what’s going on. That’s all. I’m sorry if I was too nosy.”
Her big smile returned as she said, “I forgive you. I can take care of this situation. It is my family, and I know how to deal with them. OK?”
“Let’s change the subject,” suggested Robert.
“Yes, Let’s do that,” Penny returned.
“Mom called from her work just before I left home to come here tonight,” he told her. “You’ve been invited to our home for Thanksgiving, that is if you want to come.”
“Do I!” she exclaimed. “I wouldn’t miss Lila’s great cooking for anything. And, maybe I can cut the noodles correctly this time. Plan on me. I’ll be there.”
“I was really hoping you’d give that kind of answer,” he confided. “Everyone enjoyed your visit Sunday, even Grandma.”
“Yes, she’s precious. I can tell that she was really a great Christian lady before her mind went bad,” Penny said. “I’m not always sure that Ben liked me, but being a teenager, he probably doesn’t know for sure what he likes.”
“Just between us, Penny,” Robert confided, “I’m very concerned, even afraid for Ben. For now, just know that I would be glad to have you remember him when you pray at home. I know he needs God’s help. Actually, Mom does, too. I think she’s making some big mistakes in decisions she makes about Ben. I wish she was home at night to see him.”
“I think I understand, to a degree,” Penny replied. “I am from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was in my teen years. It’s hard enough to open up to parents when everything is going well in the family. But, when the mother works and the father works, and with the extra burden of your grandmother there, no doubt Ben feels there’s no one to care about his problems.”
“I guess so,” agreed Robert. “I doubt that I’m doing enough for him, either. I guess Kerry and I are closer than Ben and I. Maybe I can do something about it. I don’t know for sure, though, what it is.”
As the pastor called for his wife and Penny to get ready to leave for Adrian, Penny advised, “Give it some attention as you pray. God has an answer. Remember the verse in Philippians 4:13. It says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ That’s your assignment for the rest of the week; just practice that verse, OK?”
“Will do!” was his answer.
Two days later, Saturday morning, Lila answered the ringing phone in her kitchen. Yelling up the stairs, she called for Ben, whose room was at the top of the stairs, to knock on Robert’s door and tell him there was a phone call for him.
“He’ll be right here, Penny,” Lila spoke into the phone. “By the way, he told me that you said you’d be here for Thanksgiving. I can hardly wait. Oh, here’s Robert.”
Looking somewhat disheveled from having been awakened from sleep on the only day he could plan on sleeping late, he reached for the receiver and said, “Hello, this is Robert.”
Lila, watching from a few feet away, could soon tell that it was a serious call, not just chit-chat, which Penny and Robert had not been doing anyhow. She waited for the conversation to end to ask, “Is it about the call last Sunday, Son?”
“Yes, Mom,” re replied. “She wondered if I could drive to Adrian so we can talk. I guess she got another call and wants someone to share it with.”
“So, you’ll be driving to Adrian right away?”
“Yes, as soon as I get the cow milked,” he answered.
Lila suggested, “Let me do it for you this morning, or I may get Ben or Kerry to do it. That way, you can get around and be on your way.”
“Thanks, Mom. I really appreciate it,” was Robert’s only response.
In less than an hour he was at Mrs. Draper’s door, where Penny stayed while in college. This time, Penny did not keep him waiting as she had done earlier. She answered the knock on the door herself. Robert could see a difference in her, besides the evidence that she had been crying. Her demeanor was different. The jolly look was not on her pretty face, having been replaced by what seemed to be bewilderment.
“I’m sorry to ask you to drive so far on your day off, Robert,” she began. “It’s just that I feel you are quite a spiritual young man, and right now I need to talk to someone who is spiritually alive.”
“It’s OK,” he consoled. “Is it about your sister?”
“Yes, it’s a long story, and I really should tell you some of the details. I called my youngest sister, Janet. She’s a good Christian. She gave me some advice, but she is in the family and doesn’t see everything the same as I do.”
“What kind of things?” he asked. “I mean, don’t tell me what you don’t think is my business, but I’ll be glad to pray and help however I can.”
Glancing at Mrs. Draper, who was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, Penny suggested with a smile, “I think we should go somewhere and spend some time talking. I don’t know where, maybe to one of the parks here in town. Is that all right?”
“Of course,” was Robert’s response.
“I’ll be back after a while, Mrs. Draper,” Penny excused herself and Robert.
“All right, Dear,” smiled the older lady. “If I’m out, just let yourself in.”
As they were getting into Robert’s car and driving off, Penny explained, “Mrs. Draper is a great family friend and all, but I really don’t feel like exposing all my problems to her. I guess she’s a Christian, but not my confidante.”
“I think I understand what you mean by that,” was Robert’s response. “Now, tell me how to get to the park.”
As they drove, Penny began unloading some of her family’s secrets, at least those which related to her relationship with her sister, Julie.
“I hope you’re not embarrassed by what I may tell you today, Rob,” she began.
Robert stopped her with, “Robert. I’m Robert, not Rob nor Bob. I’m named after my Grandpa Robert Sullivan, and I never let anyone nickname me.” Placing a hand on her wrist, he went on, “Don’t be offended. I just wanted to let you know what to call me. Now, what were you saying about me being embarrassed? Sounds like you’re about to tell me something pretty far out.”
“I guess it is, at least from Julie’s point of view,” said Penny. “She hasn’t spoken to me for about a year and a half. My dad neither. He and Julie are really close, and together, they have really caused me a lot of pain, inside pain,” she explained, putting her hand over her heart.
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” he answered.
Getting somewhat misty-eyed, Penny went on, “I love my sister; I really do and always have loved her. Still, she has caused me tremendous emotional anguish. Honestly, I’m confused, very confused. How could someone whom I love so much be so hateful to me as to not even speak to me, or even look my way, when we saw each other? She was at my youngest sister’s house many months ago, when Janet’s youngest son was born. We were having a baby shower, and it should have been a really happy occasion.” Penny was on the verge of crying.
Not knowing for sure what to do, Robert placed his hand on Penny’s wrist and patted it. To him, it was a gesture of comfort. Obviously, she understood his intention and gave him a big, teary smile. She paused to get control of her emotions, pointing out landmarks and interesting houses as they drove toward a park.
“Turn right here,” Penny said, but she pointed to the left. As Robert began turning toward the right, she again spoke, “No, I said to go left. Now we missed the road and will need to turn around.”
“I’m sorry,” answered Robert. “I thought you said to turn right.”
“But I pointed to the left, Robert,” she scolded. Then, she quieted herself and replied, “It’s partly my fault, I guess, if I said right and pointed left. Sorry.”
Trying to dismiss the little incident, Robert managed a weak smile, saying, “It’s OK. I’m sure you’re worked up, and I could have mistaken what you said.”
“I forgive you,” answered Penny. “Let’s just turn around up there at that gas station and come back. Then, turn right, R, I, G, H, T, and into the drive which leads to the park.”
When they got the car parked in a shaded spot near a vacant picnic table, Robert got out and opened the door for her, leading her to a clean spot at the table.
“Now, whenever you’re ready to tell me your story, I’ll be here to listen. Take your time. Mom took care of my morning chores so I have many hours for you if you need that much time.”
Flashing her great smile, which added so much to her beauty, she reached for Robert’s hand and squeezed it between both of her hands. Robert’s heart welled up with unexpressed emotion. What a good sign!
She began again, “I told you that some of my story could be embarrassing. It’s this.” She took a deep breath and continued, “Julie and I were not only sisters but best friends until over a year ago. We shared secrets and had so many of the same interests. Even after she got married, we stayed close. But about a year and a half ago, she heard something about me, and believed it, and has never spoken to me since.”
Robert was a good listener, nodding, smiling when it seemed appropriate, gently squeezing the hands which were still holding his.
Encouraged by his patient listening skills, she went on, “I not only had bad things being said about me, but I lost one of the closest people on earth. I thought she would at least ask me about the things she heard about me. She should try to find out the truth before discarding me as her sister and close friend. It hurts me so very much.”
“Do you feel like telling me what the lies were about,” asked the young man. “I mean, if you don’t want to, it’s all right. I’m not trying to pry into your personal life.”
Waving him to silence with a slight smile, she said, “I plan to tell you, but it may influence your thoughts about me.” She watched his face, studying for evidence of his thoughts. Seeing nothing except what appeared to be genuine concern, Penny resumed.
“This is hard to talk about. Someone, I think it was my dad, told Julie that I had been doing something really bad. I guess she believed it without trying to find out if it is true.” She glanced at Robert again.
She went on,” The story seems to be related to sexual misconduct. The way it was retold to me is that I flirted with someone when I was around twelve years old and then that I allowed him to do some wrong stuff with me. In fact, I have been accused of doing this several times and with more than one person.”
“And it’s just someone’s lie against you.” Robert finished the thought.
Penny did not respond, maintaining silence as she looked at the ground. Robert could not tell whether she was embarrassed or lost in thought or if she did not intend to answer his question. He was somewhat uncomfortable with her silence at this time.
Finally looking up at him, Penny said, “The painful part is losing my sister. Her hatred toward me is clear as anything. At Janet’s baby shower last year, the whole family was there except my dad. We were all having a fun time, except whenever Julie saw me glance toward her. She got an awful icy look on her face and turned her head away every time. I tried to speak to her, but she pretended she could not hear me, like I no longer existed.”
She turned away from Robert slightly and sobbed quietly. This was a difficult problem for him, making him at a loss as to what he should do. Cautiously, he put his arm over her shoulders. He felt this would enable her to lean on him for comfort if she chose to. She did.
“I still love Julie, deeply. I really do and don’t want to stop loving her,” Penny sobbed, less in control now.
Robert allowed her to cry, but he was not accustomed to being a comforter. He felt that, although this was not a pleasant experience for either of them, this time of heartbreak would strengthen the bond which seemed to be building between him and Penny.
When she regained control, she decided to share more. “The call last Sunday was about Julie, as you know. It’s not that she necessarily feels any different toward me, but she has a problem. She and my dad tried everything they could before feeling the need to contact me. My sister, Janet, called early today. She’s married to a Christian man. They have two children. She’s close to me and also close to my dad. Janet says that Julie is very seriously sick. She has leukemia.”
“Wow! That sounds pretty serious,” interjected Robert.
“Yes, it is,” Penny replied. “She needs a bone marrow transplant. The donor should be someone in the family if any of us have the same blood type she has. None of them do, but I do. She needs me to donate marrow so she can live.”
“Is it dangerous for you?” asked Robert.
“Not really,” was her answer. “I would have to have a physical exam. If I’m healthy enough, they would give me a spinal tap to make it painless. It takes an hour or so, and I would be free to go home in a few hours. I could have a little discomfort for a couple of days, nothing more.”
Pausing to process the information he’d just received, Robert watched Penny’s countenance undergo a change. She had been sobbing; then she became reflectful; and now she was regaining a hint of her warm smile.
“I’ve prayed about it all morning, Rob - - , I mean, Robert,” she announced. “And, I think I should take a couple of days off next week and go to Lansing for the tissue tests. I want to call Janet this afternoon to tell her that Julie can begin her chemotherapy. Her immune system will be destroyed by that. Then, she will die if I do not go through with the marrow donation.”
“So, you’ve decided for sure. Right?”
“Yes, I think it is what the Lord would be pleased to have me do. The book of Micah says that a person’s enemies are sometimes those of his own family. That’s how I saw Julie, as my enemy, but not because I wanted her to be an enemy. Somehow, she decided that I was bad, and she discarded me. I haven’t even seen my nephew, her son, who is over a year old now. She did not want to make any contact with me. But now, it looks as though God is using this bad sickness to change her attitude toward me.”
“Even if a person’s enemies may be those of his own family, the Bible also says that only One has love that is closer than the love of a brother, and that is the Lord Jesus,” remarked the young man. “To me, this says that a brother’s love, or a sister’s love in this case, is very strong. God has a plan for every life. Probably, He is using Julie’s sickness to bring you two together again.”
“I think I agree,” was Penny’s answer. “Now, I feel ready to go back to Mrs. Draper’s and call Janet, if that’s all right with you. I really do appreciate your help and encouragement today, Robert.”
“Let’s get something to eat first, OK?” he suggested.
She nodded, “Super idea, Mr. Lewis!” Her big smile had returned.
After their meal, Robert returned her to Mrs. Draper’s home, and then he went back to St. Leon. Although concerned, he had a rather good feeling about Penny’s decision to donate marrow for her estranged sister. For sure, this was pleasing to God.
The next day, the Lord’s Day, or for the Quakers, First Day, was a good day for Robert. Lila suggested he invite Penny for lunch although no previous plans had been made for her to be their guest. Penny excitedly accepted Lila’s invitation.
She spent the whole afternoon at the Lewis home so that she and Robert went together to Lester Chapel for the evening service.
They quietly prayed together after the service, before she returned to Adrian with the pastor’s family. The subject of their prayer, of course, was the testing she would undergo in Lansing the next day. They also prayed about any family meetings, especially if Penny would be seeing Julie at all.
Robert felt the anxiety the next few days. He could hardly wait until Thursday night to see if Penny had returned from Lansing and would be at the prayer service. She was there, but, of course, the pastor was running late so any news had to wait until after the service.
Quickly after the last ‘Amen’, Penny turned to Robert to try to tell him about the trip to Lansing. “I had the tissue tests, and everything is set. My tissues and Julie’s are a good match, thank the Lord. I’ll go back the week of Thanksgiving, on Monday, for the real thing.”
“That’s great, I guess,” began Robert. “But, does that mean you won’t be at our house for Thanksgiving?”
“Oh, no!” she reassured him with her big smile. “I plan to come back on Wednesday. Janet and her husband will bring me to your Aunt Beulah’s that afternoon. You can pick me up on Thursday morning. Now, you can quit worrying about that.”
Relieved, he asked, “Did you get to see Julie?”
A shadow darkened her smile. “Yes, I went to the hospital. I wanted to tell her that I love her and am going to give her part of my own body as evidence.”
“That news should have pleased her,” he figured.
“She wouldn’t even talk to me,” confided Penny. “She turned her head toward the wall when she saw me come into the room, and she never would look toward me.” Penny’s lip quivered a bit as she told him this news.
“I’m very sorry, Penny,” Robert responded. “It’s hard to believe she could treat you this way, especially when you are offering her life.”
“I’ll still donate the marrow, though,” she said. “I still love her, and I told her so. She still insists on being hateful to me, though, and it hurts me a lot.”
When the pastor announced his readiness to head back to Adrian, Robert told Penny, “God can change her feelings about you. I expect her to realize what you’re doing for her, something that no one forced you to do. I’ll be much in prayer about all this.”
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