After the Storm

Chapter Twenty-Two

   The news of Sullivan's salvation appeared in every major newspaper and trade journal in the country. The employees were jubilant.

   Diana was more than a little surprised with the outcome of the meeting with Victor O'Neal. Though Victor raged and stormed about the breach of contract and threatened a lawsuit, he eventually accepted Louis Vale's generous offer of repayment of the initial investment plus interest.

   At an emergency board meeting Vale was introduced as the new partner, and his stipulations were carefully articulated by Joe Sullivan. The consensus was favorable, though the changes outlined raised questions. Sullivan's publishing religious books? But what other option was open since the O'Neal-Sullivan merger had dissipated? And now the whole miserable business with Ralph Roper could be a closed chapter.

   The change in Diana was immediate and striking, her eyes shining like twin sapphires. And once she had returned Kevin's ring, with less trauma than expected, she was free to plan her trip to California.

   Diana awakened early, selected a black pantsuit for comfortable traveling, and finished her last-minute packing.

   Pulling her draperies open, she applauded the pale sun peering through a break in the clouds. The snowdrifts, however, piled high along the streets of Lake Shore Drive, were indifferent to its warmth. It was hard to believe that in a few hours she would be basking under the California sun.

   "Even in January?" she had asked Tim.

   "Even in January," he had replied gleefully. "Just pack for a brisk fall in Chicago, and you'll be fine."

   Now she sat at her dining room table with her morning coffee, wondering where Steven had gone and whether anyone at the university might know his whereabouts. She put her hand on the telephone and, before she could change her mind, dialed his office number.

   A woman informed her that Dr. Cartright had left the area. He had, she said, taken visiting professor positions in various universities and would be traveling throughout the United States.

   "He will be teaching at the university in the fall, won't he? Diana asked hesitantly.

   There was a distinct chill in the voice. "May I ask who's calling?"

   "Diana, Diana Sullivan."

   "Oh, Ms. Sullivan." The voice instantly warmed. "I have a message for you, just one moment. Yes, here it is. Dr. Cartright said in case you called to give you his best wishes for happiness in your forthcoming marriage."

   "Did he leave any kind of forwarding address?" the mounting pressure of slow, hot tears choked her.

   "I'm sorry . . . no. But we do expect him to return in the fall — that is, unless his plans change."

   There was a long pause as the woman waited for Diana to speak. But Diana could think of nothing more to ask, and after whispering a soft "Thank you," she slowly replaced the receiver. Tears blurred her vision as she walked to her bedroom, snapped her suitcase shut, and left to hail a cab for the airport.

   California obliged them with sparkling sunshine, and Tim grinned at his sister as he shed his heavy jacket. He picked up his car in the overhead parking lot and expertly maneuvered the VW onto the ramp of the San Diego Freeway, heading north for Santa Monica.

   Speeding along the Pacific Coast Highway, Diana turned to stare in wonder at the scene before her. Today the waves were like a boiling cauldron, crashing against great rocks and spewing foam high into the air before tumbling back into the sea. As far as she could see, the blue-gray ocean tossed restlessly as it faded into the horizon. To the right of the highway, mountains jutted steeply and houses clung precariously to the cliffs.

   "What in the world keeps them up there?" Diana asked.

   Tim shrugged. "They do seem to defy the floods, earthquakes, and gravity, don't they? But occasionally there is a landslide. It's like building your house upon sand, isn't it?" When a puzzled frown appeared on Diana's brow, Tim explained, "You know the story of the wise man who built his house, his life really, on a rock, and the foolish man who built his life upon sand? One stood through all kinds of storms, and the other came tumbling down. It's a parable of our own lives. Our security depends on whom we build — the Rock, Christ Jesus, or our own sandy, self-styled structures."

   "What a beautiful analogy, Tim."

   "It is, isn't it? But I can't take the credit for it. Jesus told that story many years ago."

   "Oh, I have so much to learn," Diana sighed in embarrassment.

   "Don't worry. You will." Tim was silent as Diana absorbed the truth of the parable. "We're leaving for Palm Springs first thing in the morning," he said, tooling his VW along the highway to Santa Monica.

   "That's where the sun really does its thing this time of year. Just pack your shorts, your swimsuit, light tops and a sweater. I've a friend who owns a condo and I have the key to use at any time."

   Pulling into a small space in front of an adobe building. Tim parked the car and opened Diana's door with a flourish. "Welcome to my hacienda, senorita."

   Tim's small apartment reflected his free spirit. A guitar was propped in the corner of the room, and a desk cluttered with papers stood next to a worn tweed sofa. A small television rested on a low table beside a stack of books, and at the back of the apartment, a kitchenette overlooked an oversized brick patio.

   "So this is life California style," Diana said, thinking of her parents' enormous Forest Hills estate and her own luxurious suite of rooms.

   "Yup, it's going to be hard to give it all up," Tim yelled from his bedroom, "but when the Lord calls, I must answer."

   "Oh, Tim." Diana stood in the doorway, watching her brother. "To think you're really coming home . . . for good."

   "Never thought I'd do it, did you?" Tim hung his clothes in the closet and began preparing his hideabed in the cramped living room. "My guest room." He grinned and showed her to his own bedroom. "We'll be up early for our drive to the Springs."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

   The drive to Palm Springs took them through a circuit of freeways and into the desert. A few straggling bushes speckled the bleak countryside.

   "But wait until we get to the Springs. It's an oasis."

   Along Highway 111 they sped to his friend's luxurious condo. While Tim carried the luggage into the house, Diana stood mesmerized by the beauty of the towering mountains and clear desert air. No wonder winter-weary Chicagoans escaped to Palm Springs.

   A sparkling pool, nestled between landscaped lawns, beckoned them, and they changed into their swimsuits and splashed in the water like the innocent children they had once been. It doesn't seem possible, Diana thought, floating on her back and staring at the clear blue sky, that I could be enjoying the sun while the rest of the nation is freezing, and that I am finally at peace.

   They dined at the Red Lion Restaurant, walking slowly after dinner through the quiet streets of Palm Springs. They spoke of their lives, past, present, and future, Diana reflecting sadly on the lost years.

   Finally she turned the conversation to the subject that had occupied most of her thoughts lately. "I couldn't get a direct answer from the university as to whether Steven is returning in the fall."

   "He'll be back. Really, Sis, what you need now is time, time to learn and grow, time to recover from this past year. God is giving it to you. Now use it to the very fullest, without tears, without regrets."

   How easily Tim lived his life, she thought. What magical gift did he possess to allow him to accept whatever came his way?

   The sun and rest worked wonders, and Diana left Palm Springs three days later much more refreshed than when she had come.

   "I've got a friend who wants to buy my VW." Tim switched on the air-conditioning on the drive home. "You think Dad will advance me money for a car?"

   "Tim, you're on salary, remember? Manager of the religious department of Sullivan-Vale Publishing House. You're in the big time now, brother."

   "I hope Louis didn't offer me a job so I could support his daughter in the manner to which she is accustomed." Tim smiled but his eyes were serious.

   Diana touched his arm. "Tim, you do have your degree in business, after all, and you are familiar with Christian books and authors. You're a natural."

   When they arrived in Santa Monica, cars lined the street in front of Tim's apartment.

   "My friends." Tim laughed. "They've come to say good-by. And from the delicious aroma coming from the patio, I do believe they're barbequeing hamburgers. I'm glad you'll have a chance to meet them."

   "How did they get into your house?" Diana asked, bewildered that a group of people would simply appear, uninvited. California lifestyle, Diana decided, was different than hers. She could scarcely imagine her friends letting themselves into her apartment and cooking on her grill while she was away.

   "Brian has my key; he's a good brother."

   Tim set down the luggage and was greeted warmly with hearty handshakes from the boys and sisterly kisses from the girls. Diana stood apart, overwhelmed. Tim's friends had taken over the apartment, spilling out onto the patio.

   "Scott, Karen, Lisa, Brian, Carrie, Tom, Katie, meet my beautiful sister, Diana."

   "Unattached?" Brian took Diana's hand and smiled down at her.

   She returned his smile, shaking her head, the question unsettling. Was she unattached? She hardly knew, but her heart insisted she was deeply attached to a man she might never see again.

   The evening was an unusual one for Diana, and she appreciated her brother's free spirit after meeting his friends. They lived day by day, moment by moment, a unique group of believers who insisted on a lifestyle that would most resemble Christ's. They spoke of an upcoming trip to Europe to "spread the gospel" and when Diana questioned how they could leave their jobs and who would support the trip, they seemed astonished at her questions.

   "Oh, we have no support. We trust the Lord to provide the money, and he always does."

   "But—"

   "It's a calling, Diana," Brian explained. "If God calls you to do a particular task, He supplies you with all you need to accomplish it. Not everyone has this kind of calling. Some are gifted to preach, some to teach, some to pray, some to give, and others to exercise a great faith. But every child of God receives a gift from Him to be used exclusively to advance the kingdom of God."

   Diana sat motionless, her hands clenched in her lap. She glanced about uncomfortably. Wearing her high-fashion ensemble, she felt as out of place as a jetliner on a narrow airstrip in the jungle. And the others, in their worn jeans and heavy sweatshirts, would definitely be out of place in her sophisticated world. Yet they fascinated her, and she wanted to know more about their lives.

   She leaned forward. "So how does one know this gift? Do I have one?"

   "Of course." Billy, a tall redhead, smiled broadly. "You'll know what it is as you grow in the Lord. Now Tim here has the most incredible gift of faith. He believes God for everything, and his faith is always rewarded."

   Diana looked at her brother through misty eyes, recalling how he had "known" that Marcie would be well, that Sullivan's would become solvent again. He flung off worry and concern with alacrity, flashing that quick boyish grin of his. With God all things are possible, he said repeatedly.

   "And even faith is a gift from God," Carrie added.

   "That's the gift I want," Diana said, and Brian nodded.

   "Then ask God for it. He's very generous in giving that particular gift, because he honors faith."

   Lisa, a pretty, dark-haired girl, had been quietly listening. Now she turned huge dark eyes to Diana. "I'm not a Christian, in case you thought we were all in the same canoe. But I'm friends with these guys because they loved me just where I was." She paused. "And that was in the streets. They took me in, fed me, clothed me, and got me a job. It's just too bad your brother fell in love back home. He's pretty special." She flirted with Tim unapologetically, and he laughed, extolling the virtues of the girl back home.

   It was all so puzzling. Was this laid-back lifestyle peculiar to California or to Christians? Diana wondered, surveying the small group of young people sitting casually on the patio, talking without reservation about their love for Christ. No wonder Lisa had been drawn to them. They were intelligent, attractive young people with the added ingredient of Christ's love poured into their lives and flowing out to others.

   Diana fell exhausted into bed, reflecting on her conversations with Tim throughout the week. He had told her about his life in Canada and California, his broken heart when Susan left him after he made a decision to follow the Lord.

   "I was pretty shy of girls after that, but with Marcie it's different, decidedly different," Tim said. "Until I fell for Marce, I didn't know real love, the kind that longs to give and share and grow together. When Susan and I disagreed, I never admitted I was wrong. But I'm learning, Sis, that love is a choice, a choice to be kind, patient, long-suffering, and forgiving. After making wrong choices most of my life, I'm deliberately choosing love and forgiveness."

   Diana lay in bed, puzzling over forgiveness. The scene of Michael's plane crash came vividly to her mind and with it the familiar animosity toward Roper. Forgive? Though she longed to follow the Lord, how could she find it possible to forgive the man who created such havoc in her life?

   God would certainly understand if she harbored one small place of unforgiveness in her heart toward such an evil man. Even God could not possibly forgive Ralph Roper, she reasoned as she dropped off to sleep.

Chapter Twenty-three  ||  Table of Contents