A continuation of Theresa's Gift from Christmas Hopes Holiday Sampler
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
They say happiness
Is a thing you can't see
A thing you can't touch
Happiness is standing beside
I can see her
She can see me
Happiness is whatever
You want it to be
Previously, from Theresa’s Hope…
“I felt like I never belonged. And that God hated me.” At Theresa’s words, the girl’s eyes widened in horrified and then relieved recognition. Nothing on earth might hurt more than feeling alone and odd and scared and maybe hated as well. Theresa’s revelation freed the girl; released by the idea that finally in some way her troubles wouldn’t take up her entire view, and at times might be far off and unseen.
“I…God doesn’t hate me?” She sobbed; her hand covered her mouth as if to keep from losing the little control she still had. Theresa smiled a half-smile and blinked back some more tears of her own; it truly was all about giving, wasn’t it? She pressed her hand in Lina’s and spoke softly.
“For I know the plans I have for you….” She practically whispered the rest of the Scripture; not as a secret from anyone as much as a precious word for the girl. The whole idea of a secret name that no one but God and she would ever know touched the girl’s heart that night.
Several days after Dave Armitage’s funeral…
Theresa sat in her office with the door closed and the lights off, resting on the old leather sofa Dave had rescued from ReStore. Stalwart souls can only marshal on for so long, and grief hits everyone hard but almost tailored to who they are. Theresa was fine until she started going through Dave’s things in the large corner closet. Finding his favorite cardigan along with his bible nestled almost safely behind some boxes pushed her to needful, too long-delayed tears. She leaned back and continued what was already an hour’s worth of sobbing. A knock came at the door.
“Just a sec?” Her words were almost apologetic as the grieving woman set aside her second widowhood and the pastor in her assumed control. She arose and walked quickly to the door; opening it to a flood of light from the outer office. She found herself facing a petite figure whose backlit silhouette looked like the angel cutouts we all made in school at Christmastime.
“Pastor Theresa?” the woman remarked as she held out her hand. Theresa took the woman’s hand in hers.
“Terry is fine,” she answered, awaiting an introduction.
“Oh, My name is Liz…Liz Pellegrino. My daughter Bella and I just started going here. My brother Anthony and his son Tyler have been going here since my sister-in-law Marie passed. Tony always spoke highly of you and Pastor Dave. I just wanted to express our condolences and thank you for your service.” Theresa nodded, wondering why the woman looked so familiar. She realized Liz was Lina’s aunt and that the woman was already a part of the single parents group at church.
“One of your messages during this time really spoke to me. Bella never knew her father. He left before Bella was born and never contacted us. We found out much later that he moved to Europe and died in a car accident when Bella was nine. I always felt ashamed. And you said in your message that God isn’t really interested in where we come from…that he’s more concerned with where we’re going…because he knows who we are? It touched me and my daughter. In the middle of your loss you gave yourself to…to us.”
Liz put her hand to her face and softly sobbed. After a few moments, she smiled weakly and went to go, but instead turned and embraced Theresa, leaving both women feeling a bit awkward.
“I’m sorry but I just… Well, Hun, You looked like you needed a hug,” the woman stammered. What few defenses Theresa had quickly fell away. She barely managed to say goodbye as she gently ushered Liz toward the exit with a thank you and a squeeze of the hand before returning to the safety of her office. She returned to the solace of the old couch where she collapsed in a wave of grief that surpassed all of the entire day’s weeping in a single moment.
They say happiness is
The folly of fools
Pity for me
One of the fools
Theresa found herself standing on a country lane; lined with wind-swayed Beech trees. She turned her head around and she saw Andy several yards behind her, alive and happy. He waved and pointed ahead to where Dave stood as if they both had run a relay. They hadn’t really ‘passed along’ Theresa. She lived her own life and blessed and received blessing where her life intersected with theirs. But even in the midst of the precious moment, she knew it was only a dream. Merely an illustration of unexpressed, undeserved hopes.
She looked down the lane in wonder and in shame. How could she even think of herself so soon after Dave’s death? It was her dream, wasn’t it? Didn’t God only grace special saints with true visions? It had to be the selfish hope of one who was inauthentic, hadn’t it? Who was she to wish for a mended heart?
She felt the breeze quicken her as the dream seemed to urge her to waken. Things grew dim and cold but she could still make out a barely-visible figure ahead on the lane who beckoned her with a welcoming wave. And then a haze overtook her…
Theresa awoke in the still-darkened office. The display on the desk clock read 3:26 am. As she struggled to sit up she was struck with sad recognition as Andy’s and Dave’s faces came to mind once again, sending her into a near fit of weeping.
And as if that wasn’t enough, after a few minutes, the sadness subsided only long enough to allow another vision to intrude. When she seemed to finally have gained a measure of peace in the midst of her grief, the dream inserted itself in her waking moments as she saw the figure ahead on the ethereal path once again, but with crystal clarity. And for another few hours abating only at the dawn of a new day, Theresa Armitage cried out to God in unmerited shame….
The Lighthouse Fellowship, Niles Illinois, mid-December, a few years later…
The sanctuary was darkened save for the back light of an open doorway into the hall to the side and a small gooseneck lamp on the simple wooden podium. Theresa sat on the edge of the platform; her Bible lay face down, placed there after more than a few minutes of hitting a wall. She knew what she wanted to say but was frustrated in the process of finding scripture to support her message. She finally settled on a passage from which she would speak about what it said rather than what she wanted it to say.
She turned at the sound of a soft footfall on the carpet.
“Pastor Terry?” The girl walked over and sat down on the platform a few feet from Theresa, her timidity and distance driven by caution and undeserved shame despite the support Theresa had given her over the past three years.
“Hi, Lina. You okay?” She asked despite knowing fairly well what troubled Lina. Theresa had that kind of demeanor like a trusted aunt or grand mom, with a welcoming that ‘permitted’ tears. The girl started to weep. Theresa sidled closer and touched her arm, evoking a near-cower by the shy girl.
“Liz still having a hard time accepting you?”
“She’s… oh she says she loves me, but she just doesn’t understand. She says she’s not sure about….” Lina looked away, as if it had to be her fault that Liz didn’t get it.
“The doctor has already explained your need for blockers and Liz is still…” Lina cut her off, her urgency to be understood driving her words.
“Dr. Cammie sat down with me and Liz and even with Bella.” Lina’s cousin was nineteen, but displayed more support than Bella’s mom. Even at that, it felt like Lina’s pleas fell to the ground, unnoticed.
“Dear God in Heaven,” Theresa said under her breath, as much an expletive as a prayer. She threw an apologetic glance upward and spoke.
“I know this has been hard for you since your dad died.” Lina was already crying, with so much of her frustration regarding her gender intermingled with mourning that spanned nearly two years. She blushed in unmerited shame, an expression not lost on Theresa.
“There is no timetable for grief under the best of circumstances, Lina. But it’s so much harder because your Dad did understand. To lose him? It must be so sad for you?” Theresa leaned closer and went to touch the girl’s shoulder, but pulled her hand back Time enough to comfort and provide solace, but Lina wasn’t there for sympathy; Theresa’s own gender journey was needed to provide empathy instead to help Lina move forward.
“I was sort of out, but Daddy was afraid Lina would scare Liz away when he got sick, so she only knew me as Tyler. It hurt that Daddy cared more…. That he was so scared to tell her about me. And when he died, Lina was still stuck locked away in my room.” Theresa nodded.
“Bella told me she knew about Lina even before I said a word. She recognized that I was different right away, But Liz just… It’s like she’s more…Oh fuck,” Lina’s face grew hot and crimson. Theresa ignored the expletive and tapped Lina’s hand gently.
“Shhhh…..it’s okay, Lina. Go ahead.”
“I think she’s afraid, but she …. I don’t know what to say anymore. I’m never going to be me,” Lina gasped in sudden realization.
“You know I’ve known your aunt for awhile.. She was a great support to me when my husband passed,” Theresa explained. Lina gasped and turned away. Theresa had been almost as much comfort to Lina at that time. She touched the girl’s arm.
“I believe you, Lina. I’ve notice how uncomfortable you and she look when you’re here. But I also know her. She’s always been an accepting soul, and I know she loves you, so maybe there’s something else that’s getting in the way of hearing you. Would you like me to talk with her?” Lina nodded; her eagerness hidden under the weight of confusion and a dearth of hope.
Theresa moved close and pulled the girl into a motherly hug; her own need only barely satisfied as the girl’s pastor and mentor. She loved Lina, likely as much as anyone in the girl’s life, but with a love that was destined to remain on the outside looking in. Lina fell into her arms and sobbed.
“Shhhh….shhhhh. I know, I know,” Theresa repeated.
That night at Theresa’s home…
Theresa sat in Dave’s broken-in recliner, her bible buried under her backpack and purse across from her on the sofa. A few years after his death still demanded the vestiges of grief; driven more out a sense of needing to make sure she didn’t forget than the love she still cherished. A few minutes of prayer left her feeling guilty; the spirit barely willing and her flesh profoundly weak and ashamed.
She closed her eyes to stanch the assault of every-evening distractions, but quickly fell asleep curled up almost fetal like. The dream had changed over the only handful moments the past two years. Andy’s face was almost angelic, perhaps as it should be after all of the years since he had departed for heaven, so to speak. Dave’s face had changed as well. His kind smile was now enhanced by an ethereal twinkle of the eyes. It was like both of them were approving of whatever the future still held for her…
Somewhere and someday else…
Theresa seemed to gain only a bit of ground between her and the figure ahead on the path in the past few permutations of the dream. She walked cautiously. The figure had stopped walking and had turned to face her. Theresa slowed her pace, hoping to delay whatever revelation God or heaven or whoever had in mind, but the figure thwarted her plan by walking toward Theresa.
“Terry?” The figure’s voice was vaguely familiar, owing more to the distance between them than her own memory. The woman, for that was who the figure was, repeated her name, but added an endearment that left Theresa feeling mostly unworthy even to have her name mentioned.
“Terry? Hun?” The words sent a shudder up Theresa’s back as the voice became completely clear and welcoming, even if Theresa felt unwelcomed. She fought off whatever fear remained and resumed moving toward the woman, closing the distance, She drew close enough to notice the woman wore a veil, covering her face. In fact, the woman was garbed in an antique white wedding gown. The bodice was lacey with a bit of décolleté. The rest of the dress was satin and floor- length, and the woman’s arms were clad in elbow length finger-less lace gloves. She held a small bible in her right hand and a single red rose in the left hand.
“Here we are,” the woman stated the obvious. What was not immediately obvious but became entirely clear is that Terry was clad in near-identical fashion save for the wedding white of her own gown. The woman raised her veil, revealing her face, a gesture that warmed and frightened Theresa at the same time as she found herself staring into the very green, very bright, and extremely loving eyes of Liz Pellegrino….
Happiness is smiling upon me
Walking my way
Sharing my day
Happiness is whatever
You want it to be
To be concluded…
from the Motion Picture Scrooge
Words and Music by Leslie Bricusse
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