Surrender To Me (Book One)

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Chapter 9: Home Fires

Our two-week honeymoon blows past us like nobody’s business. It’s an incredible trip, an incredible experience, an incredible time together. I can’t imagine a honeymoon being more perfect, but nothing grand lasts forever.

We come home from Europe and face what I consider to be our first obstacle as a newly married couple; moving into Jackson’s family estate. While we were overseas, I tried talking Jackson out of our living arrangement on two separate occasions, but he’d have no part of living elsewhere.

My experience as a wife is giving me sound advice, but Jackson won’t yield to my judgment on this matter. Moving into his family home would be trying enough if his family were happy about my addition to their numbers, but that simply isn’t the case.

Jackson’s brother, Johnson, isn’t the problem. He’s somewhat spoiled but is easy-going and readily accepts me as his new sister-in-law. Jackson’s mother, Julia is the complete problem. She doesn’t want me married to Jackson. Period. As it turns out, she zeroes in on her favorite shortcomings of mine and wields them with great expertise as her weapons of choice.

Jackson continues to assure me that I’ll never see his mother. He tells me the house is so big that we’ll never just run into each other. He promises me that living under the same roof as his family will not be a problem. I have serious doubts about all of it, but I’ll try it Jackson’s way. Should it become necessary we can always find a home of our own. Men can be pretty dense and slow to learn things, but I won’t let it be said of me that I’m a spoiled brat who insists on having everything her own way.

Dawes Manor is enormous. I remember Jackson telling me, during one of our conversations in which I tried to convince him this would never work, the home measures some fifteen thousand square feet. I remember the number because I remember how shocked I was that someone really believed they needed such a large dwelling for four people.

Thomas and I raised our three boys in a sixteen hundred square foot home with three bedrooms and one bath. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, when we all needed to get ready to leave at the same time, our house turned into a circus. It was crazy busy, cramped and horribly inconvenient, but we managed. I suppose you don’t miss what you never had, and you learn to make do with what’s in front of you.

Jackson is honest about the manor, though. It is laid out in three separate wings. The overall schematic for the monstrous house is that of a sawhorse lying on its side. The main part of the manor, the central portion, sits parallel to the road that runs in front of its southern face. This is the wing Julia calls home. The east and west wings are located in the back of the manor and intersect the central part of the house at forty-five-degree angles. The land between the two wings has been carefully cultivated and nurtured. Currently, it houses a magnificent courtyard which abuts a lanai at the back of each wing of the house.

It appears as if the home was constructed with the intention of Jackson and Johnson making it their permanent homes, even with families in tow. At first thought, it seems odd to me that a mother who is so uninterested in the lives of her children would make such a residential allowance. When I really pause to carefully consider things, though, I do remember that the manor was built right after Jackson was born; back when Julia still had Matthew; before her hopes and plans for her family were forever tragically altered.
Then, too, I have to consider that Julia’s plans to keep her boys close might not have had anything to do with love and nurture, but everything to do with meting out control. It’s also possible her plan was based on a combination of both reasons. People make all sorts of decisions for all sorts of reasons, many of which are never truly understood.

The west wing of the manor serves as Jackson’s private residence and has for quite some time. It’s not any further away from Julia than the east wing, but it’s not any closer either. In the course of one long day, all of my personal belongings are put into place by professional movers and wa la!; Jackson and I are ready to begin our married day-to-day life.

There’s no doubt about it, the residence is beautiful. It’s certainly not finished to suit my tastes, but it’s high end the whole way. For me, someone whose tastes already lean toward traditional, it’s too traditional and stuffy. Maybe a better way to describe it is that it’s too citified. It looks and feels so fancy a person is afraid to use and enjoy it. Even so, I will concede that the flooring materials, be they carpet, hardwood or tile, the draperies, moldings and appliances are all very high quality. It’s obvious that Matthew wanted the best for his family and didn’t care to pay for it.

The north end of our wing houses a four-car garage which sits just off the kitchen. When I was a mom, cooking and caring for four guys, I’d have nearly killed for kitchen like this. It’s large, well lit, and laid out extremely well. The cabinets are solid hardwood with a high gloss white finish and are topped off with a white granite countertop comprised of a myriad of black striations. The overall effect is crisp, clean and expensive.

Now, though, my baking, cooking and dishwashing days are behind me so, even though I have this incredible resource, I truly have no need for it. I find it kind of sad that this beautiful kitchen will go to waste. Oh, well, I guess it might as well sit largely unused while Jackson and I occupy the house as opposed to sitting unused while this wing remains empty.

The kitchen segues into a large dining room. This is another room that will not be utilized in the manner for which it was originally intended. It does occur to me, though, that once I get heavily involved in my ministry work, I can make use of the large table to arrange and organize my efforts. One thing about it, there should be no one around to disturb my work.

Out the other side of the kitchen, or on ahead through the end of the dining room, is the living area. My favorite things about this room are the large gas fireplace, which has an ornate wood mantle, and the enormous windows that so beautifully light the space. I’m a huge fan of natural light, always have been.
The view from this room is amazing because that incredible courtyard lies just beyond the windows. Here again, the finishes in this room are all top notch, but they are all shade of white, which is fine, I guess, but I love color. In addition, I know this decor does not reflect Jackson’s taste either. I suppose he’s been too busy running an empire to worry about the décor of his home. Honestly, for so many reasons, I’m having a hard time getting my head around the fact that this is now my home. It’s just so not me.

Hopefully, some new paint, fabrics and accessories will help me ease into my new surroundings. I suppose I’ll have to see to redecorating before I immerse myself in my ministry endeavors. I’ll work much more comfortably and productively in an environment which reflects my tastes and not those of hostile family members.

The only other room downstairs is a large powder room. It too, is luxurious in its presentation, but unnecessarily so. While I love the option of not having to run upstairs when nature’s urge hits, it’s certainly not my intention to entertain socially so there will be no one to impress.

A grand traditional staircase leads to five bedrooms on the upper level of our wing. One of them is oversized with a huge ensuite and closet. Two of the remaining bedrooms also have en suite powder rooms, but they aren’t as large as the big bedroom Jackson and I share. The final two rooms have good-sized closets but share a bathroom between them. They are the smallest two rooms in our part of the enormous residence.

Our bedroom is located above the kitchen and overlooks the courtyard side of our wing. There are three things I really love about our bedroom. First, it has its own fireplace which I find practical as well as romantic. Second, the courtyard wall has large arched windows. Here again, practicality speaks loudly through the natural light and the romantic effect the windows offer. The third thing I like about our wing is that off to one side, opposite the en suite and master closet, is a quiet little nook that I claim as my own. While Jackson chooses one of the smaller bedrooms for his office, I choose the coziness and charm of this little area because it grabs my heart and refuses to let go. I position my desk near the center of the space so I can see out the floor length windows and enjoy the courtyard view when the notion strikes me.

Three mornings after we move into our wing of the manor, I descend to the kitchen for my breakfast. Jackson usually skips breakfast so he’s still upstairs getting ready for work. As a result, I’m flying solo as I forage through the fridge looking for goodies. When I turn from the refrigerator to the counter behind me, I find that Julia Dawes has silently walked into the room and situated herself next to my kitchen table. She holds a coffee cup in her right hand. Upon closer inspection of my surroundings I discover she’s already made herself a pot of coffee. By the looks of the nearly empty carafe she’s consumed at least four cups while waiting for me to arrive.

I play it cool, so cool, in fact, I could be a spy. Yeah, go me! I manage to pretend that it’s completely normal that Julia has invaded our privacy. “Good morning, Julia,” I greet her cheerfully.

“Elizabeth,” she returns, knowing full well my name is Eliza.

So, this is how it’s going to be, huh?

“Is there something I can do for you?” I ask, ignoring her rudeness and disrespect.

Julia plays it so cool she could be a spy’s handler. Man, I hate it when that happens.

Without missing a beat, she says with hateful hostility, “You can divorce Jackson. That would be a tremendous first move on your part.” She’s obviously not finished yet so she adds with haughty contempt, “It would free him to be the man he’s meant to be, and it might save you some degree of humiliation.”

Really? This woman thinks I’m dim enough to believe she’s truly concerned about my well-being? “Gee, Julia,” I smart off to her and say, “Why don’t you get past all your insecurities and tell me what you’d really like.”

Julia leers at me with such hatred in her gaze that I take an instant to thank God that she isn’t armed.

Okay, the white elephant has been addressed, so let’s deal with it.

I ask with genuine curiosity, “Julia, what is there about me you dislike so vehemently? As far as I know I’ve never been anything, but nice to you. If I’ve done something to hurt you, other than marry Jackson, please tell me so I can make it right. Jackson is crazy about me and I only want the best in life for him. Isn’t that what any loving mother would want for her grown son?”

She jumps on me verbally as she erupts from her chair. “You see that? You lied to me right there!”

Incredulously, I look at her with a shocked expression and my palms face up in front of me.

“How did I lie to you?” I ask. For the life of me I don’t know what she means.

“You said you only want the best for Jackson, but you married him. Those are mutually exclusive things,” she says icily.

“Why am I not good enough, Julia?” I ask because I sincerely want to know.

“You’re just so…old and ordinary,” she replies as she screws up her face in a grimace and shrugs one shoulder as she twists her torso away from me. She’s doing a marvelous job of demonstrating how truly repulsive she finds me.

I uniformly shrug both shoulders back at her and nod in concession. “It’s true I’m a few years older than Jackson, but I’m hardly ready for the rocking chair of retirement.” Now that the age thing has been dealt with, I need to know about the rest of her complaint. “Besides, what’s wrong with ordinary? Jackson has lived his life grieving the loss of his dad. Other than that, he’s lived in an emotional vacuum. He seems to be craving ordinary. Anyway, isn’t this a talk you should have had with him before we married?”

“Jackson is strong willed. He won’t listen to me,” is her curt defense.

“Yes, he is strong willed, but maybe you haven’t earned the right to be heard. When you spend your children’s lives investing in other interests, your children learn to disregard you on most things, especially the important ones,” I say earnestly, but without threat present in my voice. I see rage fill Julia’s face, but I refuse to run from a fight, so I continue. “See, I’ve raised three kids of my own, Julia. You’re not talking to some intimidated girl so get over yourself.”

“How dare you speak to me like that. You have no right to criticize my parenting skills,” she spits defensively.

“You brought it up,” I remind her. “If you don’t want a response maybe you shouldn’t say anything to begin with.” Okay, the gloves are off so why not forge ahead? “Why are you here in our kitchen anyway?”

“Your kitchen?” Julia asks as she continues to spit venom. “Don’t forget for one second, Elizabeth, this is my house. I’ll be in any damn part of it, any damn time I wish,” she reminds me and storms out of our wing.

Furious, I return upstairs and slam the bedroom door behind me. Jackson quickly emerges from the bathroom.
“Ellie, what’s wrong? Why are you so upset?” He places his hands on my upper arms and tries to make eye contact with me. I won’t look him in the eye. I’m too upset right now.

I answer him anyway. “Guess who was waiting on me when I went downstairs to get a bite of breakfast?”

I’m not sure if it’s because he doesn’t take any time to really think about the question, if it’s because he doesn’t want to deal with the subject of his mother or if it’s because he’s genuinely clueless.

“Who…who was downstairs?” Jackson asks. His facial expression and demeanor indicate he thinks there might have been an intruder. He has no idea how correct his initial impression is.

I wave my hands, palm up, at him and give him my best ‘duh?’ expression. “Your mother, Jackson,” I say like I can’t believe his brain went to some criminal instead of to the obvious.

Jackson cocks his head sideways in surprise and, if you can believe it, disbelief. “My mother was in our kitchen at seven in the morning? Why?” Jackson asks incredulously.

Lord, how can such a brilliant man be so dense?

I cross my arms in front of my chest in the only defensive measure that comes to mind. “She was waiting to ambush me,” I inform him sternly.

Jackson shakes his head like I’ve lost my mind. “Ellie, my mother is so emotionally distant I can’t believe she’d even bother.”

I look at him with daggers in my eyes. Nunt-uh, those words did not just come out of his mouth! Dear God, help me, I’m going to kill him!

“So, where does that leave me, Jackson?” I say with all the sternness I can muster. “Are you accusing me of lying to you?”

Quite quickly, Jackson shakes his head. Recognition of his predicament causes him to back-pedal. Now, in an attempt to regain his credibility Jackson asks, “No, of course not, Ellie. What did she want?”

I do my best to stay calm as I say, “She wants me to divorce you, Jackson, because I’m too ordinary and too far beneath you. Oh,” as the memory pings my brain I throw it in as a tidbit, “and I’m also too old for you.”

Jackson’s jaw drops. “Are you kidding me? She said that to you?!” he asks in astonishment.

“No, I’m not kidding, Jackson,” I snap at him. “I don’t understand why you don’t believe me. I’ve never lied to you about anything.” I start to weep. His unwillingness to accept my words as truth really hurts me.

“Ellie, it’s not that I think you’re lying to me. Not for one second. This is just so out of character for my mother. She never cares about anything except her charity functions and her friends. She rarely gives Johnson and me a passing glance.”
“Well, that may be, but she’s got a plan for your life and I’m not part of it.”

Jackson pulls me into his chest. “Oh Ellie, I’m so sorry. I’ll take care of this. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding.”

I pull away from him. I’m headed toward a fit of rage and the last thing I want is to be held by him. “Are you the one who’s kidding now, Jackson?! You think finding her in what you assured me is our private kitchen and being verbally assaulted by her is all just some misunderstanding?!”
By now, I’m nearly yelling at him. I honestly don’t know which is worse; my surprise at his cluelessness or my anger at his unwillingness to believe me and his urgency to diminish this event. “You’d better get a dictionary, Jackson, and look up the word ‘misunderstanding’. I think you’re unclear on its definition,” I remind him angrily.

Without another word, and despite the surprised look on Jackson’s face, I turn and walk into the bathroom and lock the door behind me. I slide down the length of the door, melt into a puddle where I sit on the floor and cry out my anger.

Soon, Jackson knocks softly on the door. “Ellie, may I come in?”

“Go away, Jackson. I’m fine. I’ll be out later.”

“I want to see for myself, sweetheart. Besides, I have something I need to ask you?”

I sigh. He will not be dissuaded. It’s just not in his nature to give up. It’s so much easier to comply than to fight over something as silly as a shut door. I reach up and unlock the door then slide over on the floor so Jackson can enter the room unimpeded. “Come on in,” I tell him resignedly.

Jackson steps into the bathroom and finds me on the floor so he picks me up and sets me on the bathroom counter. He kisses my face several times and apologizes for himself and his mother. Once he’s satisfied, I’m over being angry with him he asks if he can borrow my cell phone for the morning.

“Why?” I want to know.

“I’m going have one of the tech guys install a panic device on it. That way if you ever get into trouble you can signal me from anywhere, telling me you need help.”

I think for a second and tell him, “Ok… I guess. Better safe than sorry, huh?”

“Exactly,” he agrees. “I’ll run your phone home to you as soon as it’s ready. I’ll inconvenience you as little as possible, ok, sweetheart?”

“Sure. I was staying home today to work on ministry projects, anyway. I guess this is as good a day as any to be without it.”

He kisses me one final time, assures me he loves me, and he’s out the door, grabbing my phone from the dresser as he goes.

At 1:30 Jackson returns home. He has the new device installed on my phone just as he’d hoped. “Here, Ellie let me show you how it works. It’s this new little button here on the side of your phone. It’s recessed so it will be hard to trigger accidentally. You don’t even have to have your phone on or out of your pocket where you can see it. Simply depress this silver button. See?”

I push the button and within seconds Jackson’s phone lights up with my panic alarm.

“Your phone sends its signal to the Dawes’ servers. They relay the alarm and your location to my phone, so I know exactly where you are. If for some reason you trigger it accidentally, just depress it quickly four times and it will deactivate.”

I push the shiny little button four times and within two eye blinks, the alarm on Jackson’s phone shuts itself off. “Well, that’s pretty straightforward,” I admit. I think someone like me, who’s technologically challenged, can manage to make it work. “Thanks, Jackson. I appreciate it. Hopefully, I’ll never need it.”

“Yes, sweetheart, hopefully,” he agrees as he kisses me again. Jackson quickly returns to the office. He’s got a global company to run. He can’t stay home and babysit my hurt feelings. I get busy with things on my to do list and the days fly by.

Quickly, Jackson and I find a routine. It’s more solitary for me than I’d like as a new bride, especially a new bride housed in a hostile residence. Jackson is usually home by six. We eat dinner together in the evenings and find something to do until I’m ready to pass out from fatigue at ten pm. I’ve always been one to go to bed early, but then I rise with the chickens. Jackson generally keeps me company while I fall asleep, but when I wake during the night, I rarely find him in bed with me.

One night I find Jackson’s absence particularly frustrating, so I go on the hunt of him. Mistakenly, I assume he’s watching T.V. in the living room because he doesn’t want to disturb me. However, I don’t find him in the living room. I don’t find him in the kitchen. I don’t find him in his study. I don’t find him anywhere. I call his phone, but it goes to voice mail. After several minutes I give up and fall asleep on the couch. When I awake the next morning, I find Jackson has carried my sleeping self back to bed. At six I wake him because my body needs him something fierce.

Jackson rises to the occasion like only he can and soon he’s rocked both our worlds. I’m sitting astride his abdomen after we’ve finished meeting one another’s needs when I notice three large ugly bruises developing on Jackson’s chest.

“I came to look for you last night, Jackson. I couldn’t find you anywhere. You didn’t answer your phone. Where were you?” I ask. I try to keep the irritation I feel from expressing itself in my tone.

“I was down at Sal’s gym,” is Jackson’s instantaneous reply.

I’m not quite sure why, but his answer strikes me as odd. “It’s open that late?” I ask for clarification.

“Oh, yeah. It’s open twenty-four hours a day. Not everyone works the day shift, but they still want to use the machines or spend some time sparring. There’s a group of us guys who like to keep our fighting skills sharp.”

He picks up my chin until I look him in the eyes. He smiles at me. “Once in a while someone gets a punch or two past me,” he adds because he senses I need reassurance.

I smile back at him. His explanation is totally believable, yet part of me isn’t convinced. He’s never mentioned Sal’s Gym to me. I know Jackson has an intense workout routine, but I’ve been running on the assumption that he used the gym down at Dawes’ for his exercise purposes. This info about Sal’s comes from out of nowhere.

I probe a little further. “Jackson, are you sure there’s nothing you need to tell me?”

He caresses my face and tips my body forward so that my lips meet his. He kisses me tenderly. “No, Ellie. Everything’s fine. I love you.”

I lower my body and snuggle into his chest. He wraps his strong warm arms around my torso and pulls me close. He rolls me over, so I’m buried beneath him. He pulls his forearms alongside my head. His soothing voice comes to my ear. “I want more of you, Ellie.” He drops his lips to kiss my neck and my ear lobes. His kisses follow my jaw line up to my mouth.

He asks again, this time with his lips on mine. His request comes to me, urgent, yet tentative. I gasp quietly as understanding settles over my gray matter. Jackson’s letting me decide if I want round two. Jackson never lets me decide. He always does the deciding. Something is very off about this entire moment between us.

Somewhere in the back of my mind a problem is identified. Waking up alone on so many nights, marginally explained bruises, and now, Jackson’s hesitancy with regards to additional love making are all reasons that cause my heart to pause and alarms to go off in my head.

The components comprising my problem aren’t condemning in and of themselves, but they certainly compel me to further wariness. Being lied to, or even being manipulated, are bad enough in their own right, but being who I am, I take it to the next dreary level. Does Jackson really see me in this marriage or am I some invisible entity he keeps around for obvious reasons.

Stop it, Ellie! You’re being paranoid. If Jackson simply wanted sex, or some live in availability, he didn’t have to commit himself to you with marriage. You went over this very thing before you took your vows! Stop looking for problems where none exist! I chide myself for doubting, but my mind can’t help but question if the niggling remnant of my vetting process is nearly ready to reveal itself. Am I about to identify that previously unidentifiable quantity that had me, so angst ridden prior to my acceptance of Jackson’s proposal?

Regardless of the verbal and emotional battle raging in my head, I stay calm and poised. I keep my apprehension hidden as I come up for air from Jackson’s kiss and say, “I think I’m fine for now, sweetheart. Thanks, though.” I roll out from under him and start towards the bathroom.

“Ellie?” comes Jackson’s anxious question.

I turn to look at him. Jackson is lying on his back but is propped up on both elbows. His naked body, glorious human manifestation of perfection that it is, stretches nearly the entire length of the bed. He’s gorgeous and I love him, and I hate to admit it to myself, but he’s never been so unattractive to me. I answer his question with a question. “Yes, Jackson?”

“You okay?” he asks me insincerely. He knows I’m not ok, but he’s completely unsure what he should do about it. Unfortunately, uncertainty shows up when deception makes an appearance. There’s no sure footing to be found when you’re walking around on lies.

I deflect. “Did you ever talk to your mother about our privacy?”

I watch as Jackson’s expression falls, and he shakes his head. “No. I’ve not had a chance to catch up with her, but I will.” So, we’re 0 for 2 this morning.

“Ok, I was just curious, that’s all,” I say nonchalantly. He’s had two chances to come clean this morning and more than enough time to confront his mother. Being hateful or angry at him isn’t going to help us at this point in time. So, I send the conversation in another direction. “What are you doing down at the office today?” I ask as lightheartedly as possible.

Jackson visibly relaxes and lowers himself onto this back. He crosses his arms underneath his head which makes his expansive chest look even larger. “I’ve got three departmental meetings today and an ad presentation with marketing, so I guess that makes four, doesn’t it? Oh, yeah, R&D called yesterday wanting some of my time, so that makes five. We’ve got several promising things in the works, but I’m not sure which one they want to see me about. As if that’s not enough, I have two overseas calls scheduled.”

“Wow, you are busy today, aren’t you?”

“Busy enough, that’s for sure. I can’t complain though. Business is booming. That’s a really great problem to have, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” I agree as I respond absentmindedly. “As far as problems go, being profitable is a good one to have.” My mind just keeps cranking. Jackson is hiding something. I’d bet my life on it. His tell in letting me decide about more sex was just too overt to miss and it’s the straw that’s making that crazy camel collapse. Now, he’s aware that I’m aware something’s not right and he’s nervous about it. Why is my husband lying to me?

Jackson climbs out of bed and comes to me. He bends toward me from behind and wraps his arms around my middle. “Ellie, sweetheart what’s wrong? You are so distracted. Tell me what’s bothering you.”

I do my best not to lie to Jackson even if he’s being less than honest with me. My response is completely truthful, even if it is tangential. “I’ve got a lot going on with my ministry objectives. I still don’t know anything about my tax-exempt status. It’s taking them forever. They’re going to grant it, they basically have to, so why all the stall tactics?”

Jackson chuckles like he’s familiar with the frustration. “That’s governmental red tape. They don’t get in a hurry for anyone, especially for an individual who wants to do good in this world.” He kisses the side of my face.

“Well, I’m getting on the phone today. I’m going to see if I can track down some info. Maybe I’ll find someone who’s willing to help me.”

“I wish you the very best, sweetheart,” he tells me as he kisses me sweetly. Twenty minutes later Jackson is showered, dressed and on his way to Dawes.

“Goodbye, Ellie,” he tells me. “I love you. I’ll be home around six. Good luck with the government,” Jackson says as he flashes me a record watt setting smile. He kisses me again and he’s out the door.

I pick up my Bible from my bedside stand and move to the incredibly practical table and chairs that sit along the eastern wall of our suite. I sit and talk with God. It’s just the two of us so I speak out loud to Him.

“Lord, it looks like the honeymoon is over. Jackson is lying to me. I don’t know what or who he’s lying about. I need to know Lord. Help me to find out, please. You know my biggest fear is that he has some other woman. I need to know so I can divorce him before I come down with some horrible illness. A devastated heart will be bad enough, but I don’t want to deal with some debilitating disease as well.

I begin to weep. “Dear God, you’ve got to help me. I need to stay calm and unassuming until I understand what’s going on. Give me the strength I need to not be angry. I don’t want rage clouding my ability to ascertain what’s happening. Give me the strength to love Jackson and give him the benefit of the doubt until I have some actual evidence regarding his deception.
“Help me to love him, Lord. He’s my husband. You know how I feel about him. Help me to show grace and mercy to him like you do to me.
“You have to help me, Lord. I don’t have the strength to do this without you. You know how careful I was, how hard I worked at trying to learn about him. I know there was something I missed, help me to learn what it is. Help me to forgive him for his lie, or lies, and for not helping me with his mother.

“When the lies start and there’s no emotional support, it’s obvious I don’t matter. I’m quickly becoming invisible to him if I haven’t already disappeared. My marriage is only a few weeks old, but I can already feel it crumbling around me. It breaks my heart it’s been such a short union. Help me to get through today and tomorrow and the day after that. Help me to hold on to You. Give me peace and strength. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I sit and cry my heart out. I have no choice. My words are all used up. My words to Jackson brought nothing but further deception and denial about his mother. My words of prayer took my petition for help and peace to God’s ear. I have no words left in me. They’ve all been allocated.

Slowly, but without delay, God’s spirit engulfs me in peace and comfort. That probably sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it’s so not. God’s peace is immediately sent to my heart, but it slowly works its way from my heart to my mind and to my tense, sob wracked body. My tears cease and I find the strength to rise from my prayer time and see to my day.
I finally find someone with the IRS who tells me my application for tax exemption is nearing the end of the review process. She can’t give me a date for its final approval, but she assures me it shouldn’t be long. I guess it’s not much, but it’s more than I had when I started three hours ago.

When Jackson arrives home, he’s in a great mood. He immediately tells me things went really well at Dawes today.

“Come on, Ellie! I want to take you out for dinner!” he exclaims as he takes me in his arms, swings me around and kisses me soundly.

“What’s the occasion?” I ask him, laughing into his ear.

“Nothing special. I just love my girl and I want to go out.”

“Okay, then! Let’s go out!” I agree, like I stand a chance of successfully disagreeing with him.

“We’ll go anywhere you want, just name it!” he informs me.

I think for a moment and make my decision. “I could sure go for a steak,” I tell him honestly.

“Alright, then, steak it is!” He grabs my hand and we’re out the door.

I’m aware that I’m probably being manipulated. If I’m aware of it does it count as manipulation or is it simply further deception? He’s been at work today and has had time to think about my mood this morning.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope Jackson is truly only stoked about his day at the office. It is possible he’s been so consumed with his obligations that he hasn’t had time to think much about me. I guess until I know for sure I’ll assume his light mood and enthusiasm are genuine.

A short while later we’re shown to our seats at the Chicago Beef Company. I order my favorite, a rib eye, and Jackson decides on a giant T-bone. We both get baked potatoes and salads. I load my potato with absolutely everything. Jackson adorns his with salt and pepper. I’ll be honest, there’s a network of reasons why Jackson looks the way he does.

“So, what was so great about work that put you in such an incredible mood?” I ask. My motivations for the question are simple. One, I am truly interested in what he accomplishes with his ground breaking company. Two, I want to keep my mind off the doom I feel hovering over my head.

Jackson excitedly jumps right in. “We had a really great breakthrough in R&D today. I want you to see it, Ellie, but not until it’s completed. It shouldn’t be too much longer.” He has the brightest light shining in his eyes. Whatever this is, he’s really excited about it.

“Okay. Well, I can’t wait to see it, so be sure and let me know,” I remind him.

He squeezes my hand, “Absolutely, sweetheart,” he reassures me.

“Hey, Jackson,” I continue, “I’d like to ask you something.”

“Sure, what is it?” Jackson asks with a little too much eagerness in his tone. The expression in his eyes reminds me of a deer that’s just been spotlighted.

I squelch the urge to follow my instinct and proceed with my original train of thought. “I’m wondering if you’ve given any more consideration to the faith question?”

“Are you asking me if I believe in God any more than when we talked about it last time?” he asks for clarification.

“Yes, I am,” I confirm for him by nodding my head.

Jackson shakes his head. “To be honest, Ellie, I haven’t thought too much about it. I will tell you, though, that I’m willing to discuss it.”

“Really?” I wonder if this is earnest interest about God or earnest effort to return to my good graces. I quickly decide it doesn’t matter. God has opened a door and I’m gonna walk right through it.

“Sure, I’ll listen,” Jackson assures me. “I know how much He means to you. You’re so devoted to Him, so He’s got to be worthwhile. Where do you want to start?”

I think for a minute and then ask, “Do you know anything at all? If you do, let’s start there.”

Jackson pauses for a second to collect his thoughts and then says, “Jesus is God’s son and God created the universe in seven days, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. God made everything in existence with Jesus present. Then man chose evil over God and became separated from Him. So, God devised a plan to save man from evil. He did that by sending Jesus to die on the cross for us. When we accept Jesus for what He did for us then Jesus accepts the punishment for the evil we do. Those are the precepts of grace and mercy in a nutshell.”

“Okay, I’m following you up to the point of grace and mercy. What are they exactly?”

“Grace is God giving us things we don’t deserve. For example, even though we sinned and can’t possibly deserve redemption, God sent Jesus to save us anyway.”

“Okay. Got it.”

“Mercy is God protecting us from what we do deserve. Because we embraced sin and alienated ourselves from God, we deserve to pay the punishment for our behavior. Jesus protects us from what we deserve when we accept Him as Lord of our life.”

“So, they’re like two sides of the same coin. Everything centers around Jesus.”

I nod my head. “Absolutely everything centers on Jesus. Without him there’s no one to take our punishment for us. Without him we have to take the punishment for ourselves. Jesus changes everything. So, yes, grace and mercy are two aspects of God’s personality. He’s got many more than two, but they are a place to start.”

“So, if God is all-powerful why did he let man fall into evil in the first place, creating a need for a redeemer?”

“God gives us a choice, Jackson. He wants us to love Him because we want to, not because He’s forced us. It’s kind of like you and I.”

Jackson raises his eyebrows at me and asks in surprise. “Like us? What do you mean?”

“Well, with all your resources you could have taken me hostage and kept me prisoner. You could come for me whenever you wanted and told yourself that I love you, right?”

Jackson grimaces at my description. “That’s sounds kind of twisted, Ellie, but yes, I guess you’re right,” he agrees.

“Bear with me, Jackson. Doesn’t it mean far more to you that I give myself to you willingly? Isn’t it easier to believe that I love you when I offer myself to you as opposed to you taking from me?”

“All right, when you put it like that, I see what you’re saying,” Jackson concedes.

“It’s the same with God. He wants us to come to Him freely, not under duress or coercion. Everyone gets the choice. There are still so many people who don’t know that God’s waiting on them. That’s why I want to help. Every single one of them may turn Him down, but I don’t want them to lose out because they never knew the truth. I want them to know they had a choice.”

“The choice is mine, too, isn’t it, Ellie?”

I reach for his hand and give it a gentle squeeze. “Yeah, Jackson, it is.”

“What about this?” he asks, squeezing my hand in return. “Thomas and I were both married to you. Assuming we both get to heaven along with you whose wife will you be?”

I shake my head at him. “Marriage, as we know it here, doesn’t exist in heaven, Jackson. Marriage is a whole different dynamic in heaven. In heaven, Jesus is the bridegroom. Those who believe in him for salvation are the bride. We’ll all still be there, we’ll know each other, we’ll see each other, but it will be different.”

“Ellie, I can’t imagine being around you and not being with you. You know what I mean?”

I nod my head at him. “I understand what you mean, Jackson, but you won’t have the same body in heaven that you have here. Every single redeemed person gets a new body.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No, that’s what the Bible teaches. We’ll get eternal spiritual bodies that won’t know pain or sadness. They’ll never get sick and will never wear out.”

“Ellie, what’s the point if I can’t be married to you, and I can’t be with you?”

I smile as I scoot in next to him. Jackson raises his arm so he can put it around me. I kiss his handsome face and wrap my arms around his body as he pulls me in close. I look up at him and say, “You’re overlooking two very important things in your summation, sweetheart.”

He kisses the top of my head and asks quietly, “Oh yeah, what are they?”

“First, being in heaven keeps you out of the alternative. Second, communion with God Almighty is going to be far greater than anything we’ve ever experienced here.”

Jackson gives me a doubtful look.

“Yes, even that!” I laugh up at him. “God won’t let you into heaven, anyway, if you’re only chasing me. I can’t get you into heaven, Jackson. Jesus is the only one who can do that for you.”

“This is a lot to think about, Ellie.”

“I know. Just remember, Jackson, God loves you. He wants you to live with him forever and Jesus makes it possible. I love you, Jackson. I’m always here if you have questions, okay?”

“Sure, Ellie, I love you, too,” Jackson assures me. Jackson seems calm and engaged. I don’t want to badger him. I’ll leave things as they are for now so God can work on his heart.

While we wait on our dessert I think back over our conversation. Actually, I’m quite encouraged for two reasons. First, Jackson is readily willing to discuss what God and Jesus have done for him. That’s a huge step in the right direction and it means Jackson is keeping a promise he made.

Second, I am surprised and secretly pleased that Jackson didn’t want to be in heaven if he couldn’t be with me. That pleases me because it would be counter intuitive to want to be in heaven with a wife you’re cheating on, wouldn’t it? Our conversation gives me hope all the way around.

Soon, our dessert comes, and we tear into it. Jackson orders carrot cake with that yummy cream cheese frosting. I choose caramel pecan cheesecake. It’s not possible for a girl to go wrong with cheesecake, is it? Well, I guess there’s that whole weight gain thing, but I don’t want to go there. It’s so not a happy place.

Unexpectedly, Jackson tentatively begins, “Ellie, I’d like to ask you something.”

“Okay… what is it?” I ask with surprise ringing in my voice. I have no idea what’s coming.

“Would you be willing to take some self-defense lessons, you know, maybe learn how to fight?”

I swallow my astonishment. It goes down hard. I’m stunned at his question. “Me?! Learn how to fight? Why would I ever do such a thing?”

“Well,” comes Jackson’s logical answer, “it’s good exercise and it would give us something to do together, in addition to the things we already enjoy so much,” he says as he squeezes my hand and winks at me.

“Oh, Jackson, I… don’t…know….” I slow my words as my brain cranks on an answer. “I’m not this physical athletic person you are. I’m going to be really bad at it and I’m not going to enjoy it at all. Besides,” I state logic from my own perspective, “I’m never going to be able to compete at your level. You’ve been doing this for years.”

“I don’t expect you to compete with me, Ellie. I just think you should know the basics about how to protect yourself, that’s all.”

“I’ll be so embarrassed, Jackson. I’m going to look so foolish. You won’t get any teaching done because you’ll be too busy laughing at me.”

I look up into his eyes and see how serious he is. Panic begins to rise within me.

Jackson shakes his head at me. “Ellie, I would never laugh at you,” he assures me. “Will you just try? You never know, you might like it. Please give it a try. For me?” he begs with those beautiful brown eyes of his.

I swallow hard. He really wants me to do this. Probably the quickest way through it is to give it a try and let him see for himself how hopeless this entire idea really is.

I ask because I desperately need confirmation. “You really want me to do this, don’t you?”

“Yeah, Ellie, I want you to try.”

“Why is it so important to you?” I want to know.

Jackson shrugs his large shoulders. “You’re my wife. I want you safe and you never know when you might need to protect yourself.”

“I married a big strong man, didn’t I? Besides, what do I need to be protected from? Is there someone gunning for me that I should be aware of?” I ask jokingly.

“Ellie, sweetheart, I can’t be with you all the time. It would make me worry less about your safety if you knew some basics.”

“Are the basics enough to help me?” I ask, hopeful for any possible way out of this. “Wouldn’t I have to be fairly proficient in order to truly help myself?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Jackson concedes then negates his own concession. “I suppose it depends on who you’re up against, but there are those situations where the basics could really make a difference.”

I see the intensity of his resolve as it shines in his gaze. Resignation sits hard in my belly. “I’m not going to talk you out of this, am I?”

“No, Ellie,” Jackson states. “It’s important to me that you try, okay?” Now, the look on his face is one of complete expectation.

I pause, but finally shrug my shoulders in concession. “All right, Jackson. I’ll try, but no promises. When I say I’m done, I’m done. You have to respect that. Fair enough?”

“Fair enough,” he agrees. He seems so comforted I’ve complied with his request. He leans in and kisses my lips, cheeks and forehead.

“Thank you, Ellie,” he whispers to me with palpable energy. Relief oozes off him. Why such intensity? My instincts tell me there is a hidden agenda present. Jackson is still being dishonest with me. He’s simply too insistent about my cooperation. He’s also being far too vague about his reasons for it. Now, he’s way too relieved for this to be a simple way for us to spend time together.

The timing of his request is really strange as it comes on the tail end of the questions which linger from our morning conversation. If Jackson is genuinely concerned about my safety, why didn’t he bring all this up before we got married?

Asked and answered. He probably thought he’d scare me off. I’m right back where I started. The ground beneath me is tenuous. Jackson’s request is straight forward, but his motives are unclear at best. I hate, hate, hate all this uncertainty and duplicity. Am I right to be hard on him or am I finding shadows where none truly exist?

I give Jackson another opportunity to be honest with me. “Jackson?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

I take his hand in mine. “Is there something I need to know? Is there something you need to tell me?”

“No, Ellie,” comes Jackson’s steady reply. “I’m just happy you’re willing to try, that’s all.” He kisses me again.

Jackson must think I’m stupid or incapable of recognizing how he kisses me when he wants to deflect. “If you’re sure, then?”

“I’m absolutely sure, sweetheart,” he insists, so I decide to let it go. We finish our desserts and Jackson pays the bill. On the ride home Jackson and I decide upon a tentative lesson schedule. I insist on mornings because that’s when I’m at my best.

“Ellie, you’re killing me!” Jackson whines. He’s such a night owl cry baby.

“Look, if you want me to try this fighting thing this is how it’s going to be. Take it or leave it, big guy,” I tell him with my very best no-nonsense expression in play.

Jackson shakes his head, feigning exasperation. “All right, okay, you win. You’re tiny, but you’re tough, you know that?”

“Jackson, I’m not that tiny, you’re just bigger than everyone else,” I remind him.

“Just so I’m clear on this,” he continues, “We’ll get together at six thirty a.m.?!” He rolls his eyes and carries on like he’s in agony.

“Six thirty is great for me,” I reply cheerfully.

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