Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
I'd known that Frank would want to resolve things as quickly as possible, so I'd called Bill Perez – we both believed he would be more likely to listen to me – that very day. And he was willing to come for supper the next day, Sunday. Frank had suggested that however much time I put into the meal, I not dress up much if at all for supper, and I saw his wisdom. This was to be an apology, and the last thing any of us needed was for Bill – I could think of him that way, if I couldn't say it – to believe that I was in any way hinting at a resumption of the affair.
So when Bill came to the door I was in the jeans and t-shirt into which I'd changed after church. I heard the doorbell, and my heart stopped. I was in the dining room at the time, putting the bowl of fried potatoes on a trivet, when the sound came, and for just a moment I stood like a ridiculous statue, the bowl nearly but not quite touching down. Frank called that he'd get it, and I completed the motion, and then stood, trying to calm my breathing.
I heard Frank open the door and invite Bill in. I could almost imagine Bill's worry and wonder, for the last time Frank had seen him there had been furious threats, and now Frank was being civil and kind, if not actually friendly. Bill of course wasn't aware of Frank's conversion, nor of the months of counseling we'd both been through, and would have no way to judge what he was seeing. I wiped my hands on my jeans and forced myself to walk through the kitchen into the living room.
Bill was still standing up, so he at least didn't have to rise at my entrance. But he wasn't sure how to react, and neither was I for that matter. Frank took charge of it all. "Please – Bill, Genesis – let's not allow the past to interfere with good manners." He smiled. "I believe shaking hands is the customary greeting in our society."
I stuck out my hand, and Bill took it, and things were a little easier. "How are you, Mrs. Carter?" he asked quietly.
"I'm much better, Mr. Perez," I answered. "We'll talk about that over supper, of course, but I'm much better than I was. And thank you for asking."
Bill looked at Frank before speaking again. "I'm glad to hear it. I'm better too. And ... and I'm glad to know you're doing well."
Frank put his arm across my shoulders, toying with a lock of red hair that lay there. "We're all glad she's better. For a while there I thought I might lose my wife." Frank's voice choked up, and I knew that would surprise Bill as much as anything. Frank had still been behind his walls when our friendship crashed down in ruins. "But God has brought us together, and healed us of so much pain."
I leaned into Frank for a second, and then straightened. "I still have just a little more to do in the kitchen, Frank," I said, "so if you'll excuse me..."
"Of course, Gen." And he leaned down and kissed me, before sending me on with an affectionate little push between the shoulder blades.
It was truly just a little that I had left to do, and it was only a few minutes before I called the men to supper. We sat down to the table, which held the fried potatoes, of course, and lima beans, and corn bread, and a pitcher of iced tea. It was a simple country supper, but one that Frank loved.
Before he prayed, Frank looked at Bill. "We've asked you here, Genesis and I, because I need to confess my sin to you, and apologize, and ask your forgiveness. You of course sinned in sleeping with my wife." He reached out and took my hand in his, gently rubbing my knuckles with his thumb. "I was hurt, and I was angry, and I had a right to be both those things. What I did not have a right to do was treat you like a dog. And that's what I did."
Frank bowed his head for a moment, and when he lifted it again there were tears on his cheeks. "Bill, whatever you and Genesis did, however you sinned against me, I had no right to treat you that way. Instead of trying to lead all three of us back into righteousness, which was my duty, I drove you away as though I held a whip in my hand. I'm so sorry, Bill, that I let one sin provoke me into another, that I sinned against you. And I ask you, if you can, to forgive me."
While Frank had been speaking I had, almost literally, seen the light shine on myself. I knew that I needed to speak as well, that Frank wasn't the only one at that table who needed to repent. And before Bill could reply, I did speak.
"Mr. Perez," I said, "Frank's right in saying that we sinned against him. I think we both know that ... we knew it at the time. That's why I ended it, after all." I took a breath, because I was running out of air. "I have confessed my sin to Frank, I've repented of what I did, and he has forgiven me. But I've never confessed to you the sin I committed against you. I'm the one who started it. I seduced you, Mr. Perez, when I was already married to a good man who deserved better. I led you into evil, and I too apologize for what I did." I wiped at my tears with my free hand, glad that I had removed most of my makeup after church. "I hope you can forgive me, too. I hope you can forgive me..."
Frank's arm was suddenly around me, and I felt his lips against my forehead. "It's all right, Genesis. It's all right. I'm here." And with Frank there, it was indeed all right. As I got myself under control again, I knew that of all the surprises Bill had received in the short time he'd been there, that must have been the greatest. Frank and I had always loved each other, but we'd never been so open about it before. I couldn't think of another time when Frank had, in someone else's presence, been so solicitous.
After a bit I was able to smile up at my husband. "Thank you, my love. I'm so glad you're here." And then I looked at Bill.
And he was weeping. When he realized that we were once again able to hear him, he made his own confession. "Rev. Carter, Mrs. Carter, you're not the only sinners here. I knew it was wrong to sleep with you from the beginning. To say that you're a beautiful woman, and that you made yourself so very attractive, is only to make excuses. I could have resisted, but I didn't. I sinned against you in allowing you to seduce me, and in trying to keep up the affair when you ended it. And Rev. Carter, I sinned against you in sleeping with your wife. I was completely wrong, no matter whose idea it was. I sinned against both of you. Yes, I forgive you both completely. I just hope that you can forgive me, for my sin was the greatest."
Frank stood, and knelt beside Bill's chair. I felt a burst of pride in my husband, and love for him – he would never have done such a thing before he knew the Lord. "Bill," he said, "I forgave you before Genesis ever called you to invite you here this evening. I know the Lord now, really and truly. I didn't know Him before, and I knew nothing of grace and love. I do now, and I forgive you freely and fully."
I rose, and knelt beside my husband, my hand on his shoulder. "I forgive you too. I can't help it, not that I'm resisting at all. Christ within me says 'forgive, ' and my heart follows without a second thought. I forgive you."
"Rev. Carter, Mrs. Carter..."
"My name is Frank," my husband said gently. "We were friends before. I hope we can be friends again."
"And my name is Genesis. Please ... Bill ... let what my husband said be true. Let's renew our friendship, if we can."
"Frank, Genesis, I don't know what to say. This is so much like Christ..."
"Yes, Bill, that's exactly it," Frank said. "I know I'm not nearly what I ought to be, but my goal every day is to be like Christ. He has saved me, and the best way I can glorify Him is to reflect His love and grace in my life. And so..."
Bill nodded. "Thank you. Thank you both."
And for a while all three of us wept, without shame, for joy at the restoration of so much that had been broken.
It was Monday in the first full week of the new year when Frank came to me. I was in the bathroom scrubbing the tub when I heard him come in. He closed the lid on the toilet and sat down, and put his hand on my shoulder as I straightened. "Genesis, may I speak with you?"
"Always, Frank, you know that."
I watched his slow smile. Of all the things that our growth had done, I think I liked most of all the fact that he smiled so easily now. "In that case, Gen, I'll proceed. I've decided that, if you're agreeable, I'll begin searching for an open pulpit."
"You mean ... you mean you want to go back into the pastorate?"
"Yes. I've spent a lot of time praying about this, and thinking about it. I've had to grapple with the question of whether God could, or would, or did, call me to preach before I was a Christian. I don't want to resume preaching just because it's what I'm best suited for, though the fact is that all my training and experience tend in that direction. I only want to do it if God is in it. But I believe that he is. 'If I say, "I will not remember Him/Or speak anymore in His name,"/Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire/Shut up in my bones;/And I am weary of holding it in, /And I cannot endure it.' The longer I'm a Christian, Genesis, the more urgent in me is the need to proclaim the Word again. I never was entirely in the camp which holds that preaching is just a career choice, like baking or working in a brokerage house, but now it's as though the hand of the Lord is directly upon me.
"But I won't do it, Gen, unless God leads you in the same direction. We've been happy for a while now, and my salary at the restaurant is sufficient for our needs as long as we're careful. If God indicates to you that we should remain as we are, then I'll find some other outlet for the fire within me."
"You're leaving it up to me?" I couldn't believe that. I suppose I was too used to the old Frank, who made decisions unilaterally and informed me of them, though in truth I'd never had reason to object to any of his decisions regarding his ministry.
"No, I'm not." His voice was kind, but it was clear that he was correcting me, and that I didn't mind. Part of being a Biblically submissive wife, I knew, was following my husband's leadership, and while Frank wasn't anymore infallible than anyone else, I knew that when he was right it was my place to listen. "I'm leaving it up to God. You see, Gen, if returning to the pastorate is His will, He'll reveal that to both of us. If He doesn't, then clearly one of us is misunderstanding His direction, and until we both hear and understand Him, our task isn't to move, but to listen and learn."
This was indeed a new Frank. His submissiveness to God was nothing like the proud certainty he'd shown before. He'd always moved ahead, confident that where he was going was where God wished him to go. I turned from where I'd been leaning on the side of the tub, and leaned my head on his knee. "Frank, if I didn't already love you with all my heart, I would love you more than ever for your surrender to God. You're right, of course – God will speak to both of us. I'll pray about this, and though I can't promise it, I believe that I'll have an answer for you soon."
I felt his hand on my head, smoothing my curls, and then that familiar tender tangling of fingers in my hair. "That's all I ask of you, my love." And then I heard him pray, another new thing, for the man who had prayed during those months when I forsook God had never been willing to pray so spontaneously. "Lord God," he said, my heart agreeing with him, "show both Genesis and me your will for us now. If it's for me to preach, let us both know. And if it's for me to do something else, then show us both that. But let your Spirit, I pray, speak the same thing to both of us, with equal clarity, so that we may hear the word behind us, saying 'This is the way, walk in it.' And whatever your answer is, Lord God, I thank you for speaking to us, for we haven't deserved it, not myself and not my darling Genesis; it is all your great grace."