Claudia Mason sat in the second row on the right side of the pulpit staring up at her husband.She had never loved anyone like she loved the Reverend James Markus Mason.From the moment she first saw him she knew her life would never be the same and she had been right.
Theirs had been a whirlwind romance.It was as if he knew her in all of her secret places and she trusted him instantly. Her grandmother had complained that he was too old for her but he had won her over with his devotion to her granddaughter.Now, two years later it was better than it had ever been.He was her best friend, her protector and her Pastor.She couldn’t believe how deeply emotional she was just listening to his deep baritone voice delivering the word of God like thunder from heaven!
“…Prayer is the starting place for a miracle not the ending place.First you pray, then you believe, then you receive!But you’ve got to believe you will receive what you need….not necessarily what you want but definitely what you need.Then just relax and Look at God! He’s awesome to behold! Know that and Know Peace”, he said and made eye contact with his wife.
She could feel the tears rising inside of her.She wanted to believe, she needed to believe but she could not shake the fear that had been instilled in her so many years ago.The tears slid down her face but she kept her eyes on her husband, so strong, such a powerful man of God. Just being near him gave her the confidence to stay strong.
Someday she would tell him about her life before she knew him.Someday she would believe that no matter what her past was, he would always love her and stay with her.Someday the threat of her past would really be in the past, but for now, it had to remain her secret, her burden to bear.
“ …There is no person, place or thing that can snatch you from God’s almighty hand if you will only believe that you can live in perfect peace! Oh ye of little faith. Don’t concentrate on what you don’t’ have or what you think He hasn’t done for you, but remember all that He has done.Remember how many times He pulled you from the brink of disaster or death and know He is still standing by, just waiting on you to believe.Believe! Turn it over to Him that can. The Great I Am! Let him do what only He can do.
Won’t you come? Won’t you come to His open arms and let Him fix it? The doors of the church are open”.
She wanted to run to the altar and empty her heart at her husband’s feet, but today wasn’t the day.Instead, she clapped and shouted amen along with all of the other sinners.
As different people in the congregation stood to go to the altar, she lowered her head and silently prayed for the courage to bear her burdens and protect her husband from her ugly past.When she opened her eyes, he was looking at her with such love and compassion she had to clutch the back of the pew to keep from running into his arms.She didn’t deserve him and he didn’t deserve to be crushed by the disasters of her past.
She stiffened her spine and wiped away her tears.She would protect him with all the strength she had.She wouldn’t let anything or anyone hurt him even if that meant it would destroy her.She could feel a new resolve coursing through her veins. “Thank you Lord. I will protect your man, my husband with my life”, she whispered.
As was customary, she stood beside her husband and shook hands with the congregation as they left the sanctuary.They were all so anxious to shake the hand of the man that brought such stirring words to their pain or their dilemmas or difficult choices.
“Pastor Mason, you are truly a man of God! I am blessed every Sunday by your inspirational words.”
“Thank you sister Watts, but delivering Gods Word is always a blessing to me as much as it is to you.We are all in this thing together.”“Amen Pastor, Amen”.
“Pastor Mason, I could have sworn you were talking to me!How do you always know what’s on my heart and what I’m dealing with?”
“I know nothing aside from God, so as long as he keeps telling me what to say, I’m going to say it.It warms my heart that He’s using me to help you.You’re a good man Brother Brown, a good man.”He hugged Pastor Mason and kissed Claudia on the cheek. “You chose well little sister, you chose well”, he said his voice overcome with emotion as he turned and walked away.
James and Claudia smiled at each other. Brother Brown was one of their favorite members and his kindness was legendary among the congregation.Then Betty Jo Haley stopped in front of her.
Betty Jo had done everything in her power to seduce Pastor, for several years before Claudia joined the church. She had tried to manipulate him into marriage and when that failed and he and Claudia started dating, Betty Jo blamed her for foiling her plan and stealing her man.No matter how ridiculous it was, Betty Jo held on to her animosity toward Claudia.
“Welllllll, don’t you look..” she stopped and looked Claudia up and down as if inspecting something distasteful. “holy”, she said then moved on in front of Pastor before Claudia could respond.Claudia bit her tongue but what she wanted to do was rip out Betty Jo’s.
“Such a beautiful sermon Pastor”, Betty Jo drawled, shaking his hand in both of hers and cocking her head sideways to look up into his eyes. Claudia could feel her temper rising.
“Thank you sister Haley. We’ve missed you the past several Sundays.’
“Oooooh did you miss me?”, she said casting a knowing look at Claudia who was clearly struggling to stay civil.
“God always misses a lost lamb.I know He is pleased you’ve come back to His flock”, Pastor said smiling warmly.
Betty Jo dropped his hand, lowered her head and quickly moved on through the line. Claudia looked up at her husband and the mischievous twinkle in his eye made her giggle.
The church had finally cleared out and they were in his office preparing to leave. Claudia propped her feet on the corner of her husband’s desk.
“I hate breaking in new shoes”, she said rubbing her left foot.
“Well if that were really true, you’d stop buying them”, James said as he hung up his robe.
“I said I hate breaking them in, not buying them”, she said and tossed one at her husband.He side stepped it as it hit the far corner of his desk and fell to the floor.
“Woman, you are still in church and now you want to assault the Pastor”.
“I’ll assault him alright”, she said scurrying around the desk and tickling her husband.Laughingly he grabbed her hands and pulled her into his chest then kissed her deeply.She leaned into him and moaned.Pastor pushed her back and looked into her face.
“You can’t make that sound in here.The last thing I want is Deacon Williams walking in on us”.“We’re married Pastor”, she said indignantly. He turned her around and playfully pushed her toward the chair she had been occupying.
“Let me get ready to go woman”, he said and tightened his tie, looking at her with inquisitive eyes.
There was a brief moment of silence.
“Is everything ok”, James asked.Claudia looked puzzled.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I don’t know, you seemed a little upset during services today.Anything you want to talk about?” Claudia’s body tensed and she struggled to look relaxed.
“All is well”, she said avoiding his concerned gaze.“You just don’t know how powerfully you can deliver a message that’s all.”He studied her beautiful face but did not comment.
“Come on James.If there was something you needed to know I’d tell you.”
“So it is something? I just don’t need to know, is that it?”
“Let it go James”, she said feeling the anxiety rising up in her. “I’m fine.Now let’s get something to eat I’m starving” she said as she put on her shoes and rising from the chair smoothed her pencil skirt over her shapely figure.
“You’d tell me if there was something wrong, wouldn’t you Claud?” he asked clearly not believing she was fine.
“Of course I would James.There’s nothing wrong! Now are you going to feed me or what?”
He slipped into his suit jacket and before he could say another word she kissed him.Then wiping her cranberry red lipstick off his lips she pushed him out the door and swatted his butt.
“Let’s go pastor before I starve to death”, she said.