After the Storm
Diana opened the door to Steven on Friday evening with a composed smile, hoping he wouldn't sense her apprehension.
She had left work early to stop at the butcher shop and had selected veal cutlets for dinner. After slicing vegetables, she created a beautiful tossed salad and set her oaken table with her finest china and crystal.
She warmed to Steven's compliments over the delicious dinner, rebuking her heart for admitting the sweet delight of his presence.
"This has been a spectacular October," she said.
"We'd better enjoy it while we can," he replied, his eyes saying more to her than his words.
"Yes." She looked down shyly. "Chicago winters can be brutal."
"No worse than winters in Vermont." And he told her of snowdrifts towering as high as skyscrapers in the eyes of a ten-year-old boy.
Diana served the dessert, filled their coffee cups, and cleared her throat tentatively. "Ever since I read your manuscript, Steven, I have been fascinated with the story behind The Search. I do wish we could publish your book, but because of its religious nature, I'm afraid that's out of the question."
"I understand," Steven said, "and I didn't submit it to you for publication. That was dear Marcie's doing. I'm not certain what I will do with it. But when the time is right, I'll know exactly where to place it, if it's meant to be published at all."
That he could have an immediate contract was a foregone conclusion, Diana mused. His name alone put him in a strong bargaining position.
"I think we can find a more comfortable spot to chat." Diana rose and Steven followed her into the living room. Positioning herself opposite him on one of the twin loveseats in front of the fire, she leaned forward. "Tell me, Steven . . ." Temporarily distracted by the firelight gleaming in his amber-flecked eyes, she paused. "How did you survive the loss of your wife?"
"It's a long story. Sure I won't bore you?"
Diana shook her head and sat back in anticipation.
"Well," Steven began, "after Julie's death, I began jotting my thoughts in a journal, hoping to capture some of the beauty she had brought to my life. But I found myself going back in time, recording the story of my own search, a search which had begun many years before.
"I had believed there was no absolute truth, that if I could garner a bit here and piece there, I might be able to put together a philosophy of sorts something I could call my truth.
"After Vietnam, I came home to an America that despised that war along with the men who had fought it. That fact, combined with the horror I had seen in Asia, crushed my spirit. I couldn't take it at home more than a couple of months, so I headed for Europe with a pack on my back. There, I hopped across the continent by train, staying in each country long enough to study the culture before moving on. The one driving force was my need to discover the meaning and purpose of my life. Why had I been spared while many of my buddies had died and innocent children had died or been maimed?
"I traveled into Sri Lanka and up into India, discovering unbelievable poverty and opulence in the same country. But even adventure wears thin and I became depressed, a heavy cloud on my spirit that would explode into a thunderstorm at any time. I became ill while I was in India and, as soon as it was possible, boarded the next flight for New York and home. But, there was no real home anymore." Steven shifted uneasily in his seat and rose to stir the dying embers. Poker in hand, he gazed into the fire.
"My parents had separated. Mother was immersed in her career in New York, and Dad had a live-in lady friend. He suggested I attend the University of Maryland, his alma mater, and I thought, why not? I enrolled as a literature major with a minor in journalism. After graduate school, I began teaching at a university in Connecticut."
He returned the poker to its stand and sat down again. "It was during this period that most of my books were written, raising doubts and asking hard questions, especially of dogmatic Christians who were so certain about their beliefs and every detail of their dogma. In my opinion, there was no absolute evidence to prove that God existed, no incontrovertible evidence I could accept. And I couldn't fathom an intellectual accepting the Christian philosophy 'by faith.'
"Then, as my journal relates, I met Julie and we fell in love. I don't know why she married such a rebel, but she must have seen something redeemable in me. She got a job working at a bookstore near the campus, and life was beautiful. We began to talk about buying a house and raising a family. At last I felt as though I had rooted myself. But even during those idyllic days, I tried to argue Julie down with long philosophical discussions. I made a game of challenging her. She never flinched, never wavered in her beliefs." Steven turned his face toward the window, staring out at the starless sky. "When she became ill, the game was over. I thought she had lost, but she had won! She died as she had lived with great peace and serenity and, in spite of excruciating pain, with faith."
"How awful for you," Diana murmured, thinking of Michael.
"Yes, and life seemed extremely fragile. Now I desperately needed answers, so my search began in earnest. I considered that if Julie's God were as big as she said, then he would not feel threatened by my doubts. One day I laid them all before him, arguing my case as logically as I knew how. He led me to study the Scriptures, and the evidence began to mount. My reflective nature had made a cynic out of me, and I wrestled with questions. But in studying the great men of faith throughout the Bible and in history, it became clear they were willing to risk everything to know God life, health, family, reputation. I knew there had to be something concrete that they saw, that they knew, that they had touched and tasted and handled. To this point I had stubbornly refused to believe that Christianity was anything more than another religion stories made up by a bunch of guys following a charismatic leader. It was a humbling experience to acknowledge that God was love and truth, and I, guilty of falling far short of his perfection."
"Perfection? But no one is perfect!" Diana frowned.
"That's just the point. No human being is perfect. God is holy. I am not. I desperately needed someone who could stand before God in my behalf, and in a sense plead my case."
Diana stared into Steven's face. "Go on."
"That's when I discovered the Jesus of the Gospels. As I read, the blinders on my eyes were removed and I saw him for who he is, the perfect One who could stand before God as my substitute. He had already stepped into this impossible gap to bring man to God, and I discovered that his death on the cross and his resurrection fulfilled all the prophecies in the Old Testament. He was the Messiah sent from God to be the Savior of the world, my Savior. He had fulfilled the impossible law of Moses, ushering in an era of grace and mercy.
"My ultimate response to the burning questions in my soul," Steven continued, "was to let go of them. I was holding on so tightly to the idea of not knowing that God had to pry my fingers loose. I had to stop fighting him, stop looking for a substitute for truth, release my anger, my guilt, my superior knowledge to the simplicity of believing that Jesus Christ is all he claimed to be. It was then that God became real to me. But still, I wondered, how could I please this holy God, what could I do to be worthy of his grace?
"One night a flash of insight awakened me. I could do nothing! It had all been done through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And I remembered the men in the Scriptures. It wasn't the mighty deeds these men did that God rewarded, nor their goodness or saintliness, because many of Jesus' followers had blatantly rebelled against him. He took those murderers, those adulterers, those faithless men and gave them a new power power to believe, power to work miracles, power to live this impossible life God demanded. And this came by faith. All my studying, my travels, my education could not produce faith. Another insight! Faith was a gift from God, nothing I could beg, borrow or steal. It was mine for the asking." Steven's eyes grew misty. "Suddenly I knew that I had but two options: to accept Jesus as my Lord just as doubting Thomas had, or to reject him. I laid aside my doubts and grasped that offered faith with both hands, and the more faith I accepted, the more I received. What a revelation!
"Julie's God became my God! I could no longer write books of nebulous philosophy, and I couldn't stay in our home any longer, so I packed my things and accepted a teaching position here at the university." He looked directly into Diana's face. "There you have it. Not the end by any means, but the beginning."
Diana avoided Steven's gaze, unable to think of a suitable response. Finally she spoke quietly. "I . . . I'm glad you've found comfort."
"That same comfort is available for everyone, for you."
The tenderness in his voice, the forcefulness of his beliefs touched her deeply. "My Gran had that same faith, though I think each person must find faith in his or her own way. Your search is over. Mine is much too complicated to explain." Diana bent her head and fought back rising tears.
"Do you want to try?" Steven leaned forward, his elbows propped on his knees.
She couldn't talk about Kevin or her wedding plans. Not now! She turned the subject to Marcie. "I spent time with Marcie last evening at her home. She seemed much better. She'll be fine, don't you think?
"Yes, I'm praying for God's complete healing or a remission, if he wills."
"It's not fair," Diana said wistfully. "She's so young."
"What might seem unfair to us may, in fact, be the best thing that could happen. Marcie has found the real meaning of life. She knows who she is now, a dearly beloved child of God."
"Of course, Marcie needs whatever comfort she can get. And I know you care very deeply for her."
"Yes, I do."
It was a simple declaration, and Diana kept her eyes downcast until she felt the pressure of Steven's hand on her arm. In one smooth stride he had spanned the distance between them.
"Diana, why have you suddenly decided to marry this Kevin O'Neal when you don't love him?"
"How can you possibly know that?" she gasped, lifting her head to meet his intent gaze.
"If he's an escape for you and your family business, it won't be necessary. Just trust God and let him work."
"God!" Diana laughed. "Since when is he in the publishing business?" Too late she realized she had revealed the truth. Swallowing hard over the lump in her throat, she added loyally, "Kevin and I can have a good life together."
"Maybe so." Steven frowned. "If by good, you mean prosperous."
Mentally Diana tried to organize a rebuttal, but she knew there was no use. This evening must end. She had willed her heart to deny her feelings for Steven, but his openness, his insight, his gentleness had left her vulnerable and a little frightened.
"I'm a very private person, Steven," Diana said quietly, "and you've given me much to think about. Thank you for telling me your story in more detail. And for giving Marcie so much of your time. I think," she suggested, "you must love her dearly."
"Of course I do. There are many kinds of love, you know." He took her hand, but she withdrew it and rose to get his coat from the hall closet.
If he lingered a moment longer, Diana knew he would say something she could not bear to hear. For a moment she held his coat to her, inhaling the musky scent of his aftershave and forcing from her mind the desire to touch his dark hair, to run her hand along the strong planes of his face to his full lips.
When she turned, Steven was there. As though reading her thoughts, he took a step toward her, but she quickly thrust the coat into his arms.
"Well, Diana, thanks for sparing me another frozen dinner alone."
At the door he turned and opened his mouth to say something more, but Diana shook her head, tears clinging to the thick fringe of her lashes. He nodded and shut the door behind him.
Diana sat beside the dying fire, Steven's low resonant voice haunting her thoughts. There are many kinds of love, you know.
Soon it would be Thanksgiving and Kevin would present her with an engagement ring. Oh, Steven, she cried silently, We're worlds apart. You love your God, the God I do not know, and I must live my life as Mrs. Kevin O'Neal.
There was no turning back. Her promise had been given, and based on that promise, Victor O'Neal had set the wheels in motion to loan the Sullivan Publishing House three million dollars.
With tears streaming down her face, Diana voiced her first prayer in years. "Oh God, if you are there, help me. There seems to be no way out. I've given my word that I'll marry Kevin. Please help me forget Steven, and please make Marcie well."
Chapter Sixteen || Table of Contents