The Sermon


"For I know the plans I have for you...."


The Sermon


by Andrea Lena DiMaggio


"Whatever it is, you know I love you? Right?" She smiled as she came up from behind and hugged him, her head placed against his back. Without turning, Doug spoke.

"Without any doubt whatsoever, and I you, you do know that, don't you?"

"Always and forever, my darling. Now come to bed. Anything that sermon needs can wait until tomorrow, okay?" She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him with her down the hallway toward the bedroom.


"Honey, will you please come to bed?" Theresa said as she walked out of the kitchen? "You've been at that since this afternoon."

Doug stared at the Bible in his lap. He was tired and sad and scared all at once. This was a make or break time. Not only did he have to convince his congregation, but his sermon needed to convince two dear souls in particular. Theresa needed to know, and he would preach this...rather he would speak softly to his wife of eighteen years...regarding his ministry. But the one who needed the most convincing ... the one who needed to be absolutely sure and rock-solid in his convictions was himself.

"I've got a story to tell you." He read off his notes.

"There's this great writer friend of mine...I know of her through a writing website that I visit. Her name is Breanna, and she wrote this superb story based on Scripture. We so infrequently get a personal glimpse into how Scripture affects us." He paused before crossing out the line and adding,

"She wrote this story in such a way that it touched my heart, like the Bible was coming alive for me in this story for the first time." He smiled at the change and continued reading.

"Let me read a brief passage to you before I get into my message for today. It’s based on Luke 15, You’ll recognize the story… The Prodigal, remember?" He swallowed hard and continued.
 
Bree nodded, tears streaming down her face, "It’s me … I’ve come home."

"Now this is an entirely new take on the story, but it is helpful, if only to understand where I'm coming from, okay?

Both her parents continued to look at her, disbelief warring with hope on their faces. Finally, Paul stood up and took her by the shoulders, lifting her from the couch. He wrapped his burly arms around her and lifted her from the floor, his own tears flowing onto her shoulder.

"I missed you too, Daddy," Bree whispered. "I missed you both so much."

"The acceptance she gains from her parents...the unconditional love? That's what I need to talk with you about this morning. I am asking you to extend that love to someone whom you have cared for these past several years...me. I need your acceptance, dear ones for what I am about to tell you...."

He was interrupted by Theresa's plea.

"Doug, Honey...please come to bed?

"Just a bit more, sweetie, okay?" His voice did not betray his sadness and fear, and she called from the hallway,

"Okay, but I'll be out to get you if you don't come to bed," she said as she paused. She walked back down the hallway and into the living room. He had put his Bible aside and was standing at the front window, as if to discover some hint or clue about himself and his message in the stars that shone that night.

"Whatever it is, you know I love you? Right?" She smiled as she came up from behind and hugged him, her head placed against his back. Without turning, Doug spoke.

"Without any doubt whatsoever, and I you, you do know that, don't you?"

He kept his back to her warm embrace, partly because she loved to hug him from behind as an almost surprise, but mostly because he did not want her to see the tears in his eyes. At 5'11, he was nearly a half-foot taller than her. She stood on her tip-toes and kissed the back of his neck.

"Always and forever, my darling. Now come to bed. Anything that sermon needs can wait until tomorrow, okay?" She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him with her down the hallway toward the bedroom.

"Honey...I'm..." Doug began to speak but she put her finger to his lips to shush him.

"I know...we don't have to do anything. I read the report...I'm a nurse, remember? We can just cuddle...that's what we women really want.at least according to SELF magazine." She giggled and pointed to the bed.

"But as soon as things get better, I expect a good fucking, okay?" She laughed again, causing Doug to turn red.

"Why Mrs. Calabrese, I do believe you said a naughty word. And you a pastor’s wife and all?" He laughed nervously, but her mood was beginning to soften his own, and the tension began to leave his body. She pulled him closer and whispered in his ear, perhaps to keep quiet so as not to wake their girls.

"Oh, Mom," Angie had said one time, "You and Daddy need to get a room!"

"Yeah, Mom...My eyes are burning," Terri had laughed. The girls teased their parents all the time about being so affectionate, but they really loved the display.

"I just hope I have as wonderful a love as you two do when I get married!" Angie had said. Terri was quiet, feeling very awkward and strange, but she still smiled warmly at her sister's word; her own questions finally gaining answers from her loving family.

Theresa mostly whispered out of a bit of embarrassement for both of them. Her needs grew increasingly frustrated but she didn't want Doug to feel bad. He nodded and smiled before saying.

"Why Mrs. Calabrese, wherever did you hear about such a thing?" He laughed softly as they climbed into bed. She pulled her robe open, baring her breasts.

"I believe I heard it from you," she giggled as he kissed and softly licked her nipples before moving his attention further south.

"Oh, Pastor Calabrese, you naughty boy!" She laughed and cried and smiled and felt a peace come over her as his attentions drew her into him, if only by his love. He continued until she could bear the bliss no longer, as she liked to say and climaxed in tears and laughter. He put his head on her stomach and wept. She stroked his hair, saying softly,

"It's okay...we'll see this through, honey. I love you." She continued to stroke his hair and he continued to weep, mostly out of the release of stress as he felt useful and loving and giving; that he somehow mattered in her universe. Her words echoed in his head,

"You naughty... boy....." He remembered the sermon that awaited his return and he wept softly. As tightly and tenaciously as he could, he held onto the words they spoke together.

"You know I love you, right?"

Almost like a mantra, he rehearsed the words over and over in his head, trying to convince himself that she'd still be saying them after he rehearsed the sermon tomorrow in front of her, as they usually did on the eve before each Sunday service. Would she be able to utter those words once again? Could she find it in her heart to love him as she always had? His resolve disappeared and he sobbed; his whole body convulsing as she held onto him. She pulled him up into a tight and welcoming embrace and spoke softly.

"Honey....sweetie? Doug? It's okay, honey, I'm here and I'm not going anywhere, okay?" She kissed his face, tasting his tears. She tasted the salt, but to her they were like new wine, sweet and tender.

"Look at me...please, it's okay...you can look at me." She spoke softly but firmly, commanding his attention.

"Nothing you can ever say or do will ever change how I feel and think and know about you, okay? Look at me, Doug...Look at me." He turned his head and gazed into her eyes, finding the most accepting love he had ever known displayed in her beautiful face.

"Doug...you left your Bible on the roof of the car when you went to Shop-Rite yesterday. It fell off in the driveway when you drove off." She smiled and her voice almost seemed to laugh softly but it was more of a coo...like the kind of sound a mother speaks to a sad child to drive away the fear after a thunderstorm.

"Your notes were in the Bible…Remember...the notes for Sunday's sermon?" He looked at her and her smile seemed so disarming, like he could walk into Hell if only she would continue to speak to him. She did as she said,

"'For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.' Do you remember the word you inserted into that? Jeremiah 29:11, isn't it?"

She smiled as he closed his eyes to remember what he wrote. He was so tired at that point; not only from the arduous day of writing the sermon, but the ardous life of self-doubt and condemnation that inspired it.

"'For I know the plans I have for you, Danielle....' Isn't that what He is saying to you? Isn't that what you've been dying inside to tell me?"

He looked up at her and she smiled at him in a way he had never seen. He'd never sought such forgiveness and acceptance from her before. Her love had almost been a foregone conclusion…taken for granted. But here, in the moment, he realized just how much he had sold her short.

“Even if this were a surprise for me, it would have been only a brief test of my love for you that I would have passed. With flying colors! You just can’t possibly know how much I’ve waited for this day.” Tears began to stream down her cheeks.

“I see the look in your eyes when a woman gives birth in a story on TV…I’ve seen the look of disapointment you've so poorly hidden when I’ve bought a new dress. I know from talking to your sister about when you were little. How I wanted you to let me in, but I knew it was so hard for you…I should have said something long ago, but I was afraid…”

“Wwhhhy aaaffraid?” He sobbed. She stroked his hair once again.

“Because of the fears you have today for Sunday. I wanted to be a Pastor’s wife. That’s what I thought I signed up for.” She bit her lip.

“But that’s not really what I signed up for. Not in my heart of hearts. I convinced myself that being popular and being looked up to was more important than what we have shared over the years. Two precious daughters. And a life worth living just for its own sake.” She struggled with the next few words.

“Four years of Bible school? I was there right beside you. Grad school? I've been right beside you all along. We're a team, you and I. You’re going to go out Sunday mornng and deliver that sermon. I know of at least three…no four who’ll be in your corner. And if nobody likes it, too bad. You’ll at least be free finally to be who you are. Your daughters will be proud of you and so will I. And I think someone else as well,” she said as she looked upward.

“I expect that you might not be pastor after Sunday but it doesn’t matter.” She sniffled and wiped her face with her robe sleeve.

“I signed up because I love you, and I’ll follow you anywhere…we’re in this together…if not here, then somewhere else. If not in a church…then in a soup kitchen or an orphanage…you can counsel in a school somewhere. I can get a job nursing anywhere, right? Just as long as you and I and the girls are together, that's all that matters.”

“You’d do that for me?” His eyes pled with her, scared that she was holding back…failing miserably in knowing his wife.

“I already did, Danielle, eighteen years ago.”

He blinked back his tears as his eyes widened at the sound of her words.

“Danielle?”

“Yes, my sweet, Danielle.” And then she pulled him closer and kissed him…really kissing her for the very first time.

"My sweet Danielle!"

- Fin -

With much gratitude to Breanna for inspiration, and to Beth, my Pastor.

Exerpt from The Prodigal included with permission from the author.



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