Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
We got home from the counseling session and Frank stalked into the house, leaving me behind. He'd seemed to calm down in Tyrone's office, but during the drive home he'd steamed more and more, and now I could tell he was furious. He was more open to expressing emotion these days – not completely free, but more than he had been – and instead of locking his anger inside this time, he was showing it all too clearly.
I followed him into the house, closing the door behind me. Frank was standing in the kitchen, a glass in his hand, as though he'd forgotten what he wanted. I stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room and asked, "Are you all right, Frank?"
He spun around and glared at me. "How dare that man accuse me of not being a Christian? Me, no Christian? What possessed that man?"
"He hasn't accused you of anything, Frank—"
"Genesis, he as much as told me I'm not a Christian, and I will not stand for such insulting proclamations."
"Genesis Carter, either support me or remain silent."
My mouth was still open. I shut it so forcefully that I felt my teeth click together. Then I opened it again to tell him exactly what I thought of his anger – and shut it again. He had demanded either support or silence, and a tirade was neither. I chose to support him, though I knew that the means I chose would not be what he wanted. "Frank Carter, do you doubt Tyrone's sincerity?"
"Do you doubt his sincerity? Do you think he's being cynical in what he said?" My grammar was a bit off, but I was working hard at controlling my temper and didn't have the attention to spare for the niceties.
"If sincerity were all it took, Genesis, we could leave off preaching the Gospel and allow the sincerely lost to get to heaven on that alone."
"True, but beside my point. Frank, whatever you think of what Tyrone said, consider whether he's being sincere. Perhaps he sincerely believes that you need a closer relationship with God."
"I'm a preacher, Genesis. How close a relationship do you want me to have?"
I'm not a preacher, nor am I particularly apt at saying the right things at the right times. Frank had always been better at comforting people or counseling them than I was, though women had sometimes sought my advice as the pastor's wife. But it seemed that God Himself was with me just then, helping me find the right things to say. "It's not what I want that matters," I told my husband. "It's what God wants."
"And Tyrone knows that better than I do?" Frank seemed to remember finally that he was holding a glass, and set it down on the counter so hard I was surprised it didn't break in his hand. "I've been preaching for years, Genesis, and I suppose I'm just as good a man and as good a preacher as that jumped up Johnny Reb."
"Johnny Reb? What on earth does that have to do with anything?" After I'd asked the question I realized how incongruous it had been for Frank to call a black man by that nickname.
Frank glared at me, and I could hear his breath. "All right, let's forget that." He waved it away. "That leaves the matter of Tyrone's impertinence. What right does he have to judge me?"
Again God seemed to guide my speech. "Is it Tyrone's judgment that's troubling you, or God's judgment, and your own?"
I could almost visibly see the wind go out of Frank's sails. His voice was much quieter now, not the near shout that it had been. "My judgment?"
"I know you somewhat, Frank," I said, and took a few steps so that I could put my hand on his arm. "You are not a stupid man. You are equally not dishonest. Look within yourself. Don't tell me what you see, but look, and tell me if what you see inside is what's making you so angry."
Frank looked at me as though he were seeing me for the first time. "Who's the pastor here, Gen?" he asked, and it sounded like a sincere question rather than sarcasm. "You sound like you're leading a congregation."
"My congregation, if I have one, is the man I love, and I'm not leading him but trying to help him lead me. I remember the fifth chapter of Ephesians, my love, in spite of my poor record when it comes to remembering the Bible, and I want to submit to you – but Biblically. I don't want you to go through life with false ideas about yourself, anymore than I want to have false ideas about myself." My hand slid up his arm to his shoulder, and then to his cheek. "Frank, I love you. And because I love you I want you to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. If you are, then what has the test cost you? And if you're not, then you'll know what you need, and you'll know where to turn." God was again helping me; I normally couldn't have called that verse to mind.
"You're on his side, aren't you?"
"Frank, I am not 'on Tyrone's side.' Nor am I on your side or mine. I'm like Abraham Lincoln – I want to be on God's side."
Frank was calmer, not the angry man who'd stomped into the house, but he was by no means serene. "If your side is God's side, then heaven help the universe," he said, and slammed out the back door.
I thought about following, but didn't. I couldn't say more than I'd already said, and I had a feeling that what I had said already was working on Frank. And if I interrupted the process, I might interfere with God's work. I honestly didn't know, right then, whether Frank was a Christian. I'd always thought he was, but his reaction to Tyrone's prescription was making me wonder. And his inability to talk about his conversion, his seeming lack of understanding what conversion was, undermined my confidence. If Frank was a Christian, why was the concept of the new birth so foreign to him? And if he wasn't...
I didn't want to pursue that. I didn't want to think that my husband might be a stranger to the household of God. The thought terrified me. And then I remembered what Tyrone had prescribed for me. While I was standing here in the kitchen thinking about myself, I could – and should – be praying for Frank. I turned on my heel and marched into the bedroom, where I closed and locked the door. I knelt down by the side of the bed, and prayed for my husband.
Some time later, I don't know how long, I heard the sound of the toilet flushing in the bathroom across the hall, and then running water. I realized that my legs were cramped, and that I had my head on the bed, and that the bedspread was wet under my cheek. I must have been crying, though I had no memory of it. I raised my head just as the water shut off, and then came the sound of someone – it had to be Frank – trying the knob. Of course it didn't turn, and then there came a knock on the door. And I heard Frank's verse: "Genesis? Are you all right?"
I answered as I stood up, my legs almost refusing to support me. "I'm fine, Frank. Just a moment." I didn't bother to check myself in the mirror – we'd been to a counseling session so my makeup was minimal – but I did swipe at my eyes and cheeks to remove the last traces of tears. I turned the lock and opened the door. Frank was standing there, and I couldn't remember ever seeing compassion so open on his face.
"Genesis, are you all right?" he asked again.
"Yes, Frank, I'm fine. I've been praying."
"You took Tyrone's prescription, then."
"Yes. Mine was easier than yours, Frank. All I needed to do was resume what had once been natural for me."
"I find my prescription intolerable."
"I won't lecture you about that," I said. "I've said what I believe, and I'll leave what you do to you and to God." I suddenly smiled, feeling impish. "But rest assured that I will most certainly pray for you. I find that you're becoming rather a gruff and thorny person, and I'm going to pray that God will prune away the stickers."
Frank's smile wasn't much, but it was a smile. "Are you saying that I'm a new Nero Wolfe?"
"I don't follow you, Frank," I said, though in fact by now I was following him down the hall to the living room.
"Wolfe says, in one of the stories, that he has a congenitally tart and thorny disposition, or something to that effect."
"I don't see how you can read those things," I said, "but since they entertain you I won't quarrel over it. But yes, today you are 'tart and thorny, ' though whether it's congenital is another question. I think you're just irked that someone has understood you so well. And I find you more like Edward Rochester – in looks as well as disposition."
Frank sat down on the sofa and pulled me down beside him, drawing me against him with an arm around my shoulders. It was the first time he'd so casually held me like that since my confession. "No one understands me, Gen. I don't even understand myself, and I really doubt that Tyrone's got an insight that I lack."
"God understands you," I murmured. In truth the feeling of being a protected, prized person that I had in Frank's embrace was relaxing me at a great rate.
"I'm not sure He does, Genesis." With my head leaning on Frank's chest I couldn't see his face, but from his voice I deduced that he was being completely serious. "I've learned over these months of counseling that my head is a real mare's nest, and I can't sort it out."
"God created your head, Frank; surely He understands you as no human being can."
"Genesis, my head's so confused that I really don't know that He can understand me."
I wasn't quite sure what to say to that. Part of my confusion was the fact that in all our years of marriage we'd never had such a conversation. It was intimate, theological, practical, perhaps even psychological, all at once. We were dealing with Frank's fundamental nature, and his faith, and his view of the God he served. I wasn't at all sure I was qualified to think about these things, much less discuss them with my husband. And as for helping him see his way through the maze – well, I might as well have tried to comprehend quantum mechanics, and I barely knew what that was.
Eventually I did speak. "Frank," I said, "remember who and what God is." I reached out a hand to his, which was lying flat on his thigh. I gently stroked his hand from wrist to fingertips. "He is the one who knows everything, who sees all, who created every living creature. Surely He can and does understand you."
"I don't question your sincerity, Gen." I remembered my remarks during our argument earlier, but didn't say anything. "But with all due respect to your intelligence and your faith, I'm the preacher here."
"Yes, you are, and I respect and admire you for taking on such a difficult calling. I've caught myself more than once giving you the kind of adoring looks, while you've preached, that politicians' wives train themselves to give their husbands." I felt myself blushing; I'd never before spoken of how I would gaze at my husband sometimes with almost idolatrous awe, though in truth it had been a long time since I'd done that. "But God speaks to whom He chooses, and it just might be that I've gotten a better understanding on this one point than you have."
I'd half expected Frank to become angry at that, but he didn't. "You may be right," he said. His voice sounded as though he were giving the thought serious consideration. "But I still don't see it."
And God did, then, give me one of those insights that he'd provided during our earlier discussion. "Frank, what does Psalm 139 say?" I had to ask, because all I could call to mind was a few scattered words.
He was silent for a time as he recalled the passage. Finally he began quoting:
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,"
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,