Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Call - A Short Story

Jennie Lazarus

Angela couldtell from the way the door to the garage slammed that Matt was upset. As she stood at the kitchen sink scrubbingpotatoes for dinner, the familiar lump in the pit of her stomach bubbled to thesurface and swelled, making her immediately nauseous. Matt would be standing behind her in lessthan a minute, bear-hugging her and giving her a peck on the nape of her neck –a sure sign that his day had not been a good one. “What have I done wrong this time?” shethought to herself as she listened to his approaching footsteps.

A hundredscenarios raced through her imagination in the time it took for him to crossthe foyer, traverse the family room and enter the kitchen. It amazed Angela that so much could flashacross her brain in such a brief time. Shehoped that maybe this time it wasn’t some transgression with her name on it;perhaps he was perturbed by something- or someone- else. She said a quick prayer that this might bethe case.

The life of aminister was not an easy one - she knew that. Matt had a lot to deal with as the spiritual leader of his small, ruralchurch full of strong-willed individuals, each one carrying his or her ownideas of Christianity and how the church should be run. She had trouble understanding why Matt chosethis path in life. What was this thing -The Call - that he was compelled to follow all the way to the church pulpit andparsonage door? While her heart andspirit believed that God led them both in their lives, her brain had troubleprocessing the reality of the way her life had changed since The Call. Howcould it be so strong that Matt could no longer be satisfied with simply beinga good church member like everyone else in the congregation, the way he wasbefore God spoke to him directly, leading him down this new path?

Sure enough,her fears were realized. Before shecould turn off the water at the sink or put down the potato in her hand, shefelt Matt’s arms wrapping around her middle, and the familiar nibble below herear lobe. Recognizing that thisexpression of affection was the sign she had feared, she hesitantly asked,“Rough day?”

“You couldsay that,” Matt answered brusquely. “We’ll talk about it after dinner.” With that, he kissed her again and in hardly above a whisper, hebreathed into her ear, “Love you.” He released his grasp on her and headed tothe bedroom to change from his preacher attire of sports coat and slacks intomore comfortable sweats and slippers, leaving her to her own thoughts of whatmight be coming later.

As Angelaglanced back over her shoulder to watch his retreat from the kitchen, shecontemplated The Call and how dedicated he was to it - a little too dedicated,she thought. It seemed to her that Mattplaced The Call above everything else in his life, even theirrelationship. As this thought crossedher mind, a wave of guilt and a prayer followed, “I’m sorry, God, I didn’t meanit. Please forgive me,” she confessed.

Angela knew inher heart that she was the cause of her husband’s so-called rough day. Still standing at the sink, sheabsent-mindedly continued scrubbing the potato and gazed out at the fieldbehind the parsonage, looking at nothing in particular, but absorbing the lateafternoon beauty of the sun caressing the wild flowers and bending the daisyfaces toward the west. A lone teartracked its way down her cheek, where she quickly lapped it into her mouth, tastingthe saltiness of her unhappiness.

“Why is itthat God’s call hurts so much?” she quietly asked herself and whatever spiritmight be listening. “And why didn’t youcall me, too?” she added, glancing heavenward, her anxiety finally allowing herto address God directly with her insecurities.

Life had beengood before The Call. She and Matt werehappy, or at least she thought they were happy. Maybe they really weren’t; maybe it had been an illusion, or he wouldn’thave wanted to leave a good job as marketing director of a successful firm tomake such a drastic change in his life. Or perhaps something was lacking between the two of them to make him takea turn in this new direction. She had noanswers, but plenty of questions, and until this moment, no one toward whom todirect them. Again, she said a prayer,in the form of a plea, “Why did you call him to ministry, but didn’t talk to meabout it first?” She knew this questionbordered on blasphemy, but she was at the point where nothing seemed to makesense anymore, and God was the only one she trusted for verbalizing what hadbeen nagging at her for so long.

Angelasnapped back to reality as she realized the water was still running in the sinkand the potato was just about scrubbed to death. Poor thing, its skin was nearly gone. She could almost identify with it. “Poor little potato,” she sympathized. “I know how you must feel,” she sighed as shelaid it aside to clean the next potato waiting in the bowl.

* * * * * *

Suppertimewas quiet. While Matt hungrily choweddown on pork chops and pan-fried potatoes, Angela was hardly able toswallow. She couldn’t help but wonderwhat their after-dinner conversation was going to be. She didn’t dare broach the subject while Mattwas eating. He liked to enjoy his mealswithout the added challenge of a conversation. His typical response to her whenever she tried to start one, “Angela, Italk to people all day long. Let me eatmy supper in peace, please,” kept her from saying a word. As they sat in silence, Angela reviewed theprevious day, Sunday, in her mind, trying to remember if she had said somethinginappropriate of a preacher’s wife, or had perhaps snubbed someone at church. It had been an ordinary Sunday as far as shecould recall, but she had that familiar sinking feeling that she had donesomething that would come to haunt her until she and Matt moved on to theirnext church. She didn’t like thesesilent meals, but in the six years since Matt had become a preacher, she hadgotten used to them in a strange way. Aslong as he didn’t have anything to say, then she didn’t have to come up with aresponse, or more likely, a defense.

Last month,it was a cold-shoulder that she didn’t even know she had committed when shebrushed by Eleanor Porter in the church hallway without stopping to chat. She had been late to her Sunday School class,and simply didn’t think to stop and engage in a conversation with her. And then, last year, Mr. Wilson, chairman ofthe pastor-parish relations committee complained to Matt that Angela needed todress differently for the Wednesday night suppers. She had made the mortal mistake of wearing askirt that was a tad short, and a sleeveless knit top that wasn’t two sizes toobig on her, like most of the clothes that met Matt’s approval. Before that, in another church, there was acomplaint that she sang too enthusiastically in the church choir, and a bighub-bub when she declined an invitation to fill in for the church pianist whowas going away on a two week vacation. It seemed to her that someone was always on her case about something,and Matt never came to her defense, at least not that she knew of. Instead, he’d come home, give her the silenttreatment for awhile, and then spring the latest complaint on her, followed bya plea for her to either make amends or try harder to better present herself asa good minister’s wife. Angela wonderedif he ever supported her in front of his parishioners.

She was gladthat they didn’t have children yet. Sheshuddered to imagine the complaints that would fly over the way she’d raisetheir kids. She already pitied theirunborn children for having to grow up with the label, “preacher’s kid.” Matt still talked from time to time abouthaving a family, but recently he’d been too preoccupied with the church to evenshow any interest in intimacy with her. When he wasn’t at the church or out somewheremaking pastoral visits, he was sequestered in his study, working on a sermon orSunday School lesson and reading Bible commentaries. She was usually well into dreamland when hewould slip into bed at night, only to awaken before her to begin his new day. Whileshe knew in her heart that this wasn’t the way their life together should be,she appreciated the fact that she didn’t have to dwell at any length onpossible parenthood.

As she satacross the table from Matt, watching him eat, her thoughts drifted on andon. She recalled all the times she’dgotten into trouble with him about her lack of preacher’s wife skills, andwondered if maybe there might actually be something wrong with her. Was she a snob? Was she truly insensitive to churchmembers? Did she really portray a poorexample of a minister’s wife? Matt hadteased her a few months ago, accusing her of being a weight around his neck,and she was beginning to believe that it might be true. Was she dragging him down in his profession? Her own career felt second-fiddle to his,even though she put her heart and soul into the community elder-care center shemanaged, where she played games and held hands every day with senile seniorcitizens and listened hours on end to tales of younger years, lost loves, andunappreciative children. She loved theseold folks. She fervently believed that this could very well be her own versionof The Call – whatever a Call was. Why didn’t she feel the same about the churchand her position as the minister’s wife?

An ah-ha!moment slapped her across the face. It felt so real, she glanced at Matt to seeif he noticed her head snapping back in a reactionary movement. Could this be God’s hand getting herattention? Maybe it wasn’t all her fault. She suddenly realized that she wouldn’t have known anything about theseoffenses of hers if Matt hadn’t brought them to her attention. And, like the peace-maker that she was, shetook to heart whatever the issue of the day happened to be, always trying tochange to please him so that his life would run more smoothly. She suddenly felt very weary, and again silentlyaddressed God, “OK, God. I’m not theperson Matt wants me to be, and I’m not sure if I’m the person You want me tobe. I know very little about TheCall. I’m tired of trying to be someoneI’m not. I admit that I don’t understandThe Call, but can’t we somehow all work together on this? I need your help, God.”

With thissimple prayer, a new resolve took root. A stronger spine began to grow, giving Angela audacity she didn’t knowshe had. She looked across the table atMatt, not knowing what was rumbling around in his mind, certain that she didn’twant to know. He pushed away from thetable, having finished his dinner, gave her a peck on the cheek, and moved intothe family room, leaving the kitchen for her to clean up. This gave her a little time to prepare forwhatever was coming next, and to breathe another prayer, “God, I really, reallyneed your help. The three of us justcan’t keep on this way. I can’t believe that your Call was meant to be likethis.” She added, including Matt in herplea, “Please help us.”

With dishesin the dishwasher and the counters sparkling clean again, Angela wiped herhands on a dishtowel and moved toward the family room. This time, although she was afraid of whatmight come, she was armed with a newly found invisible shield. Before Matt could say a word, she stood infront of his recliner, firmly planted her feet, and addressed her husband,“Matt, I’m sorry that you had a rough day, but I don’t want to hear about ittonight. If it has something to do withme and some member’s feelings I’ve hurt, you can forget about ever telling me. I don’t want to know. I’ve had a tough day, too, at my own job, andI’m not interested in learning about my latest transgression, whatever it is.”

Matt satupright in his chair, a look of sheer puzzlement on his face at theauthoritative tone in his wife’s voice. “Angela,” he paused for effect. “Ihad a long talk with Marcia Taylor today…” He didn’t have a chance to finish.

“WhateverMarcia Taylor had to say is not my concern,” Angela cut him off, “and I don’twant to hear about it. I’m tired oftrying to please everyone, including you, and I’m tired of not being able tocount on you to stand beside me with church members.”

Matt wasuncharacteristically speechless. Angelahad never spoken to him in this manner. This wasn’t like her, and her outburst baffled him. All he could do was sit there and stare athis beautiful, but visibly angry, wife. He found his voice, and started to speak, butAngela cut him off.

With a deepbreath, she continued. “I’m going to thegym. I’ll be back in a couple ofhours. This will give you some time tothink about what our conversation will be when I get home.”

With that,trembling inside with fear, but also feeling a strength she didn’t know shehad, she spun on her heel, grabbed her gym bag and car keys, and exited theroom, her head held high. She knew shewas taking a huge risk with this action and with these words, but she felt a guidingpresence within her in what she was doing. She believed that The Call, in some manner not yet revealed, would bemade clear to both of them.

By the time Mattcould recover enough to jump out of his chair and run after her, the garagedoor had shut, and Angela was in her car, pulling out of the driveway.