© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell
Karen sat at Paul’s kitchen table alone. It was late and she couldn’t deny her fatigue but she wanted to wait up. Curiously, her insides were fluttering. She was actually a little bit afraid of meeting Paul’s mother. Karen struggled with her usual personal barriers, needing to put up her walls, but Paul disarmed her. And for some reason, Karen found it important that his mother have a favorable impression of her. In spite of Paul’s spiritual side, he tugged at her.
Paul spoke of God as easily as he spoke of a good friend or a family member. But Karen had all the same objections to organized religion that a lot of other people did. Look at the Crusades, the Inquisition, and more recently the attacks on gays and abortion clinics- all in the name of God. How could a loving God condone all that? If that’s what He thought was right, then she wanted no part of it. Whether she agreed with their philosophy or not, a lot of it just seemed very mean-spirited. Maybe she’d ask Paul about it, but she’d probably just get that cop-out about ‘God working in mysterious ways.’
Karen heard a car drive up and two doors slammed. When the key was in the lock, Karen struggled to her feet. They hurt worse tonight than they had all day, and they looked to be swelling a bit as well. Nevertheless, Karen didn’t want to make a bad impression by making it seem that she was being disrespectful. She needn’t have worried.
Paul’s mother came bustling in the door, looking exhausted, but alert. She took one look at Karen down the hallway, and boomed, “Now, young lady, you sit right back down. Paul told me about your feet, and being on them right now is pure foolishness!”
Karen dropped back down into the chair in surprise. His mother came in and bent over wrapping Karen in a hug. Eyes wide, Karen awkwardly patted the woman’s arm. Finally, she let go and Karen took a deep breath. Who was this woman?
Paul’s mother was dressed comfortably, in cotton slacks and a pink button-down shirt rolled up at the elbows. She wore comfortable clogs on her feet. Her hair was cut in a bob just below her ears, and flecks of gray sported in the dark strands. She was tall, like Paul, but rounder than he. She wasn’t stunningly beautiful in any conventional sense, but Karen was drawn to the warmth in her eyes, and the smile on her lips.
“I’m Glenda, Paul’s mother. Paul told me what happened to you, dear, and I just can’t believe it! But well, I do believe it after seeing you- I’d like to take a look at your feet later, if that’s okay with you.”
“Um… They’re fine, really. Paul did a fine job of wrapping them up, and so forth…” Karen’s voice trailed off. She felt frozen. Usually, Karen took control of a situation from the outset, but here she felt like a marionette whose strings were being pulled by this dynamic woman.
“Nonsense… It won’t hurt a bit- I was a nurse for a long time, dear. Retired now, but I still know my way around cuts and bruises. And we need to make sure you’re okay. Now, Paul, could I get a drink of water please? Those planes just dry me out.”
Paul fetched the water like a dutiful son, and smiled at Karen from behind his mother’s back. Karen smiled back, liking this woman despite her usual inclination to not form attachments.
“I need to get some sleep. I think we all have a lot to discuss in the morning. Paul, do you still take off Mondays?”
“Yes, Ma’am- the only day of the week.”
“Good, then that will give us a head start. Am I staying in the guest room?” She peered at them both critically. “Under the circumstances, I think that’s best.”
Incredibly, Karen blushed under the scrutiny of this forthright woman. She deferred to Paul in a single gesture.
“Of course, Mom. But I do need to get it cleaned up first. Not that Karen messed it up or anything…” he stopped realizing that he had probably inadvertently insulted Karen.
“Not at all, Paul. Mrs. Coburn, I’m afraid that when Paul took me in last night, I was a bit of a mess. And I didn’t get a chance to clean up today…”
“Of course you didn’t! And this being Sunday, why, it’s no surprise at all. Good thing I brought my own sheets. I’ll just have them changed in a jiffy and then get a good night’s rest. Now, Karen, you need to stop this ‘Mrs. Coburn’ nonsense before it even gets started. It’s Glenda- okay?”
Karen nodded mutely.
“Alright then. We’re all in agreement. Good night Paul, honey. And good night to you Karen,” and Glenda started off down the hall, but turned halfway to the stairs, “Oh Paul, did you bring my things up already?”
“Yes, Ma’am. All taken care of.”
She smiled warmly, “Thank you Honey. Good night- and Paul? Don’t keep that poor girl up too long. She’s going to need some rest.”
“Got it Mom, Thanks.”
After she left, Paul sat at the table with Karen, and smiled sheepishly. “It’s like I’m still ten years old with her sometimes.”
“You’re lucky, Paul. She seems like a good, solid woman.”
“You have no idea,” he replied.
Paul cocked his head to the side and appraised her for just a moment. “What’s your mom like Karen?”
Karen swallowed, momentarily panicked. “Not here.”
“Well, where is she?”
Karen exhaled, strangely wanting to share but embarrassment and discomfort tied her tongue. Paul waited patiently while she fought against the stilted rhetoric that she had always spewed whenever someone asked her personal questions.
“My parents live in Pueblo. I left there almost ten years ago, and haven’t been back since.”
“I take it you don’t have a good relationship with them?”
“I don’t have any relationship with them. My parents made it clear a long time ago that they never wanted a child, and I’ve made it easy for them to forget it.”
Paul bit his lip before replying, “That’s very sad. Don’t you ever want to see them? Holidays or birthdays? Anything like that?”
“I’ve been on my own for a long time- you get used to it. They never made a fuss about anything anyway. So there’s really no difference.”
Paul sensed deep-seated pain in her words, and didn’t want to pry. If she ever wanted to talk, well, maybe there’d be time for that later. He changed the subject.
“So how are your feet really doing?”
“They hurt, at the moment.” Karen gave a small laugh, “But you get used to it. I’m sure they’d be worse if you hadn’t found me last night. Thank you Paul. I mean that. I don’t know that anyone has ever done something like that for me in my life.”
“It was my pleasure. God doesn’t often drop angels on my doorstep.”
Karen looked at him, forgetting for the moment her discomfiture with all topics religious.
“What do you mean? I can assure you I’m no angel.”
Paul laughed, “In the Bible, there’s a passage in Hebrews that says, ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.’ These days, there’s too much risk in having total strangers into your home. Of course, if they’re passing out and bleeding…” he let his voice trail off.
Letting go, Karen laughed and threw a balled-up napkin at him. “I already apologized for that. Trust me, if I had my druthers, I’d be home right now.”
“And where is home?”
Karen repeated her address and Paul looked surprised, “But that’s only a few blocks from here.”
“I figured as much. But I can’t go home. I’m sure the police are watching it, and I’m afraid someone is there waiting for me.”
Paul waited for a moment, mulling something over. “Karen, I’d like to tell you something, but I need you to understand that it has to stay in confidence.” She nodded assent, curiosity evident.
“About two weeks ago, I received the first in a series of letters from a company called Jays and Amendlee. They want to foreclose on the church property. That‘s the other part of the reason that I’m in trouble right now. I’m afraid there are elements in my congregation that think I’ve been dishonest. That notwithstanding, yesterday I received a letter from the woman for whose murder, you are wanted. It was mailed postmortem, and details her assertion that her… lover, Tom Delaney may have been involved both in her murder and in some kind of scam involving our church. I’m no businessman, and I’m no attorney. So I’m not even sure what I’m looking at. But I think God planted you here for a reason. I want to be honest about that.”
Karen’s look went from fascinated to deflated in a second flat. “Look, Paul, I respect your beliefs. Or at least, I respect your right to have your beliefs, but I just can’t buy into a God caring that much that he would set all this up this way.”
“What can you buy into?” he asked.
Karen took a deep breath, thinking. “I guess I can believe that there was something there at the beginning. I mean, okay, there’s a big bang, but what was before that? What created the material that started it? God could have been there, I guess.”
“You know, that’s essentially what the Bible says happened. That God created something out of nothing.”
Karen looked skeptical, “Then why all the bickering with the evolutionist crowd?”
“I guess, like everything else, a lot of lines have been drawn. And people are either on one side or the other, forgetting about what’s at stake in the middle.”
“And what exactly is at stake here?”
“Namely that there is a great and awesome God who cares for every human being on the face of the planet so much that he would send his only beloved son to die so that we might live.”
Karen smiled, enduring the religious talk as she would the babbling of a small child. “Okay, Paul. Then why all the suffering? Why the poverty, and war, and anguish of people all over the world?”
“There’re as many answers to that question as there are situations. But the underlying factor is that there is sin in the world. And unfortunately, that brings with it some horrible circumstances. But God doesn’t like it, and I believe he calls those of us with so much to give to those in need.”
“That’s a lovely sentiment, Paul, but I’m sorry. The people out there with the fish plastered all over their bumpers are more likely to cut me off than anyone else. It’s sentimentality and fear that drives people to religion.”
Paul looked at her gently, “Karen, as a Christian, I can say with total honesty that if you keep your eyes on a Christian, you will be disappointed every single time without fail.”
Karen shook her head, “I don’t get that Paul. Shouldn’t Christians be better than the rest of us?”
Paul thought for a moment, “No. The Bible says that we are all sinners. Paul, one of the greatest writers of the New Testament said again and again that he was the worst of sinners- and this was a man responsible for the conversions of thousands of Christians. He was a leader and a guide to many of the most influential teachers in Christianity, yet he was convinced of his own depravity.”
“Okay,” she replied. “But then what’s the point? If you don’t have some sort of edge, what’s the point? If God doesn’t make you better, or a better person at least…”
Paul sat up enthusiastically, “The point is that from the very moment we accept Christ, we are suddenly alive again. That’s what makes a Christian different.”
Karen replied sardonically, “I’m alive, Paul. My heart’s beating, my blood’s pumping.”
“Physically, yes. But not spiritually. From the very beginning, when Adam and Eve made their decision to eat that apple, they lost their spiritual life- through the spirit, we are able to relate to and really know God. The spirit was the way that they enjoyed total fellowship with Him.” He stopped, afraid that he had said too much too soon. Paul admitted to a bad habit of going above and beyond what was asked, but Karen continued to look at him with interest, so he continued.
“So, when they chose knowledge over obedience, they became spiritually dead, and all mankind that followed. But when Christ died, he made it possible for we, who are spiritually dead, to have new life in Him.”
Karen took a moment to digest what he had said before a hint of familiarity dawned, “You mean that life after death stuff, right?”
“Well, yes and no. Yes, we do have eternal life in Christ. But from the very moment on earth that we accept Christ, and truly believe in what he came to do, then we have that Spirit back. And from that moment, in this life, we can have fellowship with God again. It’s like one writer put it, “Christ gave his life for you, so He could give His life to you, so that He could live His life through you.”
Silence passed for several moments before she quietly asked him a critically personal question, “Don’t you ever get tired of being out of control? I mean, you’re under God. You’re under all the right-wing fundamentalists that tell you how to vote and what to think… Don’t you ever just want to breathe freely?”
“I’m not sure how… Karen, until I knew Christ, the burden I was under was sin. I did things and said things… You have no idea. But when I accepted Christ, it was only then that I found freedom.”
“No- it’s truth. Christ met me where I was. He cleaned me up, accepted me, called me his own even after knowing who I was. The only one I answer to is Jesus Christ. Not religious leaders or anyone else. And that burden is really no burden at all.”
Karen sat still, momentarily having nothing to say- absorbing the gist of what Paul had said. Prior to tonight, Karen had always thought of Christians in political terms- they were often hard-line voters that supported whatever candidate a few men told them to support. And that was something she never condoned, because she often felt those in leadership to be severely misguided.
But if what Paul said was true, then it wasn’t about a few gray-headed men and a power trip. This Christ had come for individuals, not a voting bloc. And that thought had greater implications than she was able to comprehend right now.
“I guess I have just one more question then. If Christ is in all these people, then why in the name of God do people commit such horrible atrocities?”
Paul looked sad for a moment, before he replied, “It’s not fair to hold an entire group of people responsible for isolated incidents, no matter how awful they are. If we did that, then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be credited with changing this country. There are a lot of Muslims who abhor the violence that isolated sects incur on the rest of the world. And to turn the tables, what if every time the Democratic party tried to introduce legislation that would provide a national healthcare plan to provide millions of uninsured Americans with decent healthcare, I brought up Stalin, the Soviet dictator that murdered thousands of innocent civilians in the name of the common good? It’s the same thing. You take one group of misguided or violent people and try to extrapolate it into the definition of people who might genuinely believe in the ideals of Christ- a peaceful and loving man.”
Karen thought for a moment before she replied almost against her will, “Alright. You have a point.” An awkward silence sat palpably between them for a few moments. Finally, half-meaning it, Karen ended the conversation. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m exhausted…” Paul reacted immediately.
“I have a hide-a-bed in the study. It should be set up already. Come on,” and he helped her limp down the hall to the study, where he wrestled the stubborn sofa bed into position. She thanked him, and closed the doors, pretending to feel exhausted.
But Karen lay in the dark, thinking about everything Paul had just said… thinking about Paul himself. And for some reason, she couldn’t get it out of her head.
HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Kendra Cornell if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.
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