Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
Frank began making calls, and writing letters. He got few responses. Most of those were negative: We don't need a pastor at this time, Our search for a pastor is moving in other directions, Thank you for your interest and we'll let you know if we need further input. Some churches refused to return his phone calls. Deacons and pulpit committee chairmen somehow were never around when he called.
I never knew exactly what it was like. Frank told me in general terms what he was going through, but gave me few details. I asked him why, and he said, "Genesis, if you truly wish to know I'll let you read the letters, and I'll report the conversations. But I see no need to subject you to it; it's enough for me to face the discouragement. I'd prefer that you remain sunny and optimistic."
And so I did. And I prayed. And God answered.
It was the first week of March, on a Thursday evening, when Frank emerged from the bedroom, where he'd carried the phone, with a smile on his face. "Put on your church dress, Gen," he said, "we're going preaching." Even when he was being his most informal, Frank never dropped his terminal Gs as so many people do.
"You've got a supply date?" I asked, and I knew my face showed my excitement.
"Better than that, Gen. There's a church which wants me to come in view of a call."
"In view of a call?" The phrase meant that the church wanted to consider Frank as a potential pastor.
"Yes. I don't know why they're so willing, given our history and the fact that I haven't preached for nearly two years, but I won't look this gift horse in the mouth."
"But shouldn't you beware of Greeks bearing gifts?"
"Only if I'm a Trojan, and the horse is very large, and hollow," Frank said with a laugh. "In this case it appears to be a more conventional beast."
I gave my husband a hug. "Whatever the nature of the horse, I'm glad it's appeared. And, if I may sound for a moment like a redneck – ride 'em, cowboy."
Frank laughed again, and with his arms around me picked me up and swung me around. It was a dizzy feeling, a feeling that my husband was happy and protective and ready to join me in joy. "I am not a cowboy, Genesis, and I couldn't ride a horse if I had to. But I shall certainly deliver the best sermon I can."
"And God will take care of the rest."
"That He certainly shall, Genesis."
"So," I said, when we'd calmed down a bit, "do you think this will lead anywhere?"
"I don't know. It's possible that they'll choose someone else. I know God has given me this opportunity to preach to this church, but I don't know whether it's because He wants me there permanently, or because there is something I can say to the church on this one occasion. But as you said, God will take care of all that."
"Then I'll trust Him, Frank. That's one thing I've learned to do ... though I'm still learning how to do it better."
"In that, Genesis, you're just like every other Christian. And you're probably better than some."
The church was in Albuquerque's South Valley. The building was tan stucco, the surface weathering and in some places flaking off what appeared to be concrete block. It was unprepossessing, and the cars in the parking lot were those of people who were perhaps poor, certainly no more than middle class. It was a step down, in that sense, from the churches we'd been in during the first part of our marriage, but we weren't arguing with God. If it was His will that we come to a church that couldn't afford to maintain the building, then we would do exactly that, and praise the Lord for the opportunity to do His will.
And I felt at home in that church. I didn't know whether the people there didn't know about our past, or knew and didn't care. Either way, they welcomed us like family. They made room for us on the front pew, and made sure we each had a hymnal. The people were largely Hispanic, with a scattering of whites and what appeared to be a solitary black family. From the clothing and haircuts I saw, I confirmed my deduction that no one in this church had much money. The auditorium also supported that view, with old veneer paneling on the walls, ceiling fans to provide air circulation, and a sound system that took some coaxing to work properly.
I commented on it to Frank, and he said, "It's like some of the country churches I preached in while I was in college. It's here in town, but I imagine that initially it was rural, with farms all around. And the city in its expansion has put the money north and east of here."
I nodded. "It's interesting. The building looks ... well, it doesn't look bad, Frank, but it doesn't look like what I'm accustomed to. But I'm not sure that I've ever had such a sweet welcome."
"I know what you mean, Gen. If God leads us here, I won't complain. Loving people are something I want from a church."
I leaned my head against Frank's shoulder. "I'm not sure you'd have said that before." I didn't have to specify what I was talking about – "before" and "after" were very clear to us.
"Genesis," said my husband, "I couldn't have said that before. I didn't have the love in me that it takes to recognize love."
I nodded, my curls rubbing against the fabric of Frank's suit. "I'm glad that you've come to recognize that love, Frank. You're more yourself than ever these days."
Frank laughed, but quietly to fit the setting. "I would rather be myself than anyone else ... though being you might be interesting. I would love to know how it feels to have that lovely red hair hanging down to your waist."
I laughed too. "If it hadn't been for what happened, my hair would still be short. I only started growing it long because I lost interest in caring for it."
"Whatever the reason, Gen, I love it the way it is." And he reached up and tugged on a lock that hung down beside my ear.
Just then the piano began to play, and I didn't have to come up with an appropriate response. Of course, the kind of gentle teasing we'd been doing didn't require brilliant conversational skills; as long as I loved my husband any sort of silly words would do. And I loved seeing him so relaxed, so emotionally free. It wasn't just easier on me, but it was fun seeing him having so much fun, instead of locking himself inside and denying his sense of humor to me.
The service wasn't the way MJT's was, but then the services at Gilead hadn't been like MJT's either. Here, at South Valley Fellowship, prayer came first, to the gentle accompaniment of the piano. Then one of the men made several announcements, introduced me and Frank, and turned the service over to a song leader.
We sang for 30 or 40 minutes, singing one hymn after another. They were older hymns, hymns that I remembered from my childhood, hymns that were a reminder of God's love and a comfort in what was, after all, a nervous situation. For I did not know what any of these people would or did think of me.
At last the time came for Frank to preach. He went up the three steps to the platform, and opened his Bible and his notes, and looked out over the congregation. "In my communication with the pulpit committee," he said, "a question has arisen which I think I shall answer now, since it is, as I've understood the committee, rather general among you. It has to do with my wife.
"I love my wife. That is something you need to understand. I love her as I love no one else on earth. Only Christ comes before her in my heart. Genesis has been the best wife I could ask for over the past two years – it is nearly two years.
"Yes, as you have heard, Genesis sinned against me and against God. What you might not have heard is that I also sinned against her, and against God. Furthermore, until this past August I wasn't even a Christian. I had preached for years without ever actually knowing the Lord I preached. But I am now a Christian. Genesis was present at my conversion, and her prayers on my behalf had a great deal to do with it.
"I am here to preach the Word of God to you today. It is that Word which is important. Yes, you must judge me on my morality, and on how I lead my family – which is, thus far, only my wife. But this morning, I ask you to forget about me, and to forget about Genesis, and think only of the Lord whom we all serve."
And then he announced his text, and led us in prayer, and began preaching.
I had listened to Frank preach for years. But this was something completely different. In style it wasn't significantly different. It was, perhaps, just a bit tentative, after nearly two years out of the pulpit. But the obvious difference was that he now knew, personally and by experience, what he was talking about. It was a simple sermon, one on forgiveness, but it was very plain that when he spoke of forgiving those who've wronged you, that he had received that forgiveness and given it. He wasn't delivering theoretical theology, but practical knowledge; he had practiced what he was now preaching.
As he drew to the close of his sermon, he said, "I spoke at the beginning of my message of what Genesis and I have been through. I'm not going, now or ever, to discuss that in detail; that is not for others to know. But I can, and do, tell you this. If Genesis had not been able to forgive me for the great hurt I dealt her, I could not be here today. If I had not been able to forgive her for her sin against me, I could not be here today. We do not deny the past; it affects us today and every day. Our love is stronger for what we've endured, among other consequences. We can never forget what has happened to us.
"But we do not hold it against each other. What Genesis did is past. What I did is past. What we do now is what matters – and what we do now is love God, and love each other, and seek together to know and understand and do the Lord's will. That, brothers and sisters, is forgiveness. That is what God called me and Genesis to. And it's what He calls every Christian to. I know, because I know what it's like to be human, that some of you have hurt others, and some of you have suffered hurt at the hands of others. I know that some of that pain is deep and old and you believe it can never fade away.
"But I also know the Lord. And I know that His forgiveness is deeper than any ocean, higher than any mountain, broader than any continent. It doesn't matter what the hurt is, it doesn't matter who sinned against you or against whom you have sinned – God can forgive, and you can forgive in His strength."
And then he prayed. And it was as though God Himself were praying, for the peace that came over me and over that congregation was almost tangible. I knew that even if God did not intend for Frank to be that church's pastor, I had gained a great deal from the sermon. For I understood, more than ever, what it means when God says He loves me.
After the service, there was lunch in the fellowship hall. I began to get nervous then, for I knew that after lunch we would meet with the pulpit committee privately. And though I was completely grateful for Frank's defense of me from the pulpit, and knew that he would stand by it against any pointed questioning, I also knew that if someone on the committee decided to make an issue of my adultery, it could destroy the joy of the day and perhaps wreck what seemed, to me, to be a wonderful opportunity for Frank to become a pastor again.