Chapter 12 - Honor Thy Father
Several more Sundays had passed and news of an amazing preacher reached the towns and counties neighboring Miracle. The stories that swirled were of a beautiful, young woman, hair as white as snow and the messages she gave. Each and every one was personal, at many times they were intimate, but they were always given with confidence and authority.
Three weeks ago the church had overflowed, it was standing room only within the sanctuary as parishioners sat patiently (while others quite impatiently) for the woman preacher called Jane to give her sermon. Although Jesse still ran the service as pastor, he had given up his sermon-writing and sermon-giving duties to Jane. The woman was a natural at it – she seemed to have endless, and relevant, stream of topics to go by. Two Sundays ago was the first in many, many years where the early-morning service was reintroduced, although it alleviated the overcrowding during the late service, it was not by much. There was, interestingly, an unexpected outcome: Preachers from nearby towns cancel their services so those church-goers (and the preacher as well) could attend the service at Miracle and in particular listen to the sermon.
Another unexpected outcome was the change in Jesse Fisher. Though he tried very hard to find out how Jane had emulated his wife, the more he had thought about it, the more he had talked about it, the more he came to the conclusion that God’s will was behind it. When he accepted this as truth, his faith in the divine and mysterious filled his mind and his heart once more. Being a pastor was no longer drudgery to Jesse, although his role was diminished as Jane’s popularity grew, he was still thepreacher of Miracle. In fact, it was because of Jane’s prowess with sermons which Jesse benefited from. Taking with him wherever he went what he had heard Jane speak about the previous Sunday, Jesse would parlay the young woman’s words into meaningful visits with parishioners in all different settings. Visiting the sick or counseling those gone astray was no longer something to loathe, instead, it was something he began to look forward to and even went out of his way and sought.
In thorough and harsh opposition, stood Missy. It seemed the more her father reconnected with his faith, the more he returned to being the pastor he once was, the greater Missy’s internal turmoil became. The words Jane had spoken weeks ago – the words which seemed to have come from her own mother – still haunted her. At some level, Missy agreed, she had lost her faith, she had lost her compassion, and she had lost her love for her father. But deep, deep down inside she was angry. If only the words had actually come from her mother, she might have turned things around, but they did not. They had come from this, this...woman. A white-haired, blue-eyed, beautiful woman – the kind found on a magazine cover, not one for a conservative crowd. Yet, here she was, not only rubbing elbows with these down-to-earth, hardworking, God-fearing people, but preaching to them about their faults. The thought of it all boiled her blood. Missy waited patiently for Jane to slip up, to show some chink in the perfect armor of her sunny disposition and cheerful personality. But nothing appeared, not even remotely. So as Jane’s popularity grew Missy began to resent, not Jane, but her father. The person who brought this woman into her house, who had allowed the woman to wear her mother’s clothes, who had allowed the woman to replace her mother in the community. With every passing day the resentment and anger grew, eating away at her core. Missy’s grades plummeted, she became more and more withdrawn, and sadly, she even considered suicide.
Another Sunday, another church service, another well delivered and received sermon. The difference today though was no Missy sitting in the front row, or later standing dutifully beside her father. The parishioners only had Jesse and Jane to greet them as they exited the sanctuary – the weirdly-dressed pastor’s daughter, who was not present, was nonetheless noticed by one.
“Yes, yes, thank you Pastor Jesse,” said the elderly woman, who walked with a slight hunch. Still holding the pastor’s hand, she added, “Where’s your daughter, oh, I’ve forgotten her name…”
“Missy,” replied Jesse, trying to keep the smile on his face.
“Yes, the sweet dear in her black clothes. Is she alright? I didn’t see her today.” The woman turned as though looking for Missy.
The fact was Jesse did not know. He had called for Missy this morning, repeatedly, first at breakfast then eventually to leave for church. He even knocked on her door, banging on it slightly, trying to get her attention. Nothing. Not a sound of music or even snoring. This was not the first time Missy had given him the silent treatment, lately it was happening more and more often. But something about it today bothered him and he was certainly itching to get back home to check on her.
“She…” started Jesse, searching his mind for a reply, “was not…quite right today. Home in bed, hopefully feeling better by now.”
“Oh, I hope so pastor,” said the elderly woman, nodding her head, “I’ll pray for her.”
Jesse squeezed her hand warmly, “Thank you. I hope so too.”
The pastor and young woman entered the house quietly. Jane had noticed on the way home from church Jesse was in no mood for conversation. She decided to leave him to his thoughts, no doubt about his daughter, who seemed to slip away farther from him every day. Once at home though, she cut quickly to the chase.
“Do you want me to check on her?” said Jane softly.
Unbuttoning his cuffs and rolling up the sleeves to his denim shirt, he replied, “No, I’ll do it.”
The deep sound of his boots followed him to the staircase. Reaching for the banister Jesse looked up and found Missy at the landing above, standing there barefoot and defiant, wearing faded-black pajamas and a grey-and-white striped tank top. Jesse also noticed Missy’s hair was a tousled mess, he wondered if she had just now gotten out of bed.
“You had me worried, you know,” said Jesse, somewhat annoyed. “Next time when I knock on your door I expect—”
“Really?” interrupted Missy sarcastically. She sauntered down the staircase, forcing her steps, “You were worried for me?”
“Of course I was worried. You don’t answer your door, you’re locked up there all day and night, and then you don’t even let us know that you’re okay before we have to leave.”
The closer Missy approached, the better Jesse noticed the thick, black eyeliner around her eyes. Except for going to school during the week, Missy had stopped going out altogether and it showed. The eyeliner stood out like neon against her white face and arms, the kind of pasty-white that made anyone look sickly.
“You don’t care about me,” continued Missy, her expression turning dark. “Now that you have her” – she pointed at Jane who was timidly removing the thin-heeled, cream-colored flats that matched her dress – “you don’t have a need for me. You now have your perfect daughter, pretty and friendly, not the freak.”
“What’s wrong with you?” replied Jesse, shaking his head. “Why are you acting this way?” The thought of this strange outburst being drug induced entered in his mind, scaring him. “Are you on drugs?” His tone held back no accusation.
“If only it were that easy,” said Missy, still coming down the steps, she waved her arms dramatically, “then everything’s good. Ha! Just blame it on the drugs.”
“Listen young lady,” said Jesse firmly, “you need to calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”
Missy reached the bottom of the steps with two thuds of her feet, “You wanna know what’s wrong? You’re wrong” – she then looked at Jane angrily – “she’s wrong” – Missy lifted her arms and twirled – “everything around here is wrong” –she then approached a table beside the front door and knocked over a vase that had been on top.
“Missy!” blurted Jesse. “Stop that, let’s talk—”
“No! I’m done talking” – the now red-faced girl reached into the pocket of her pajamas – “I was gonna do this in my room, alone, but I want to see the look on your face.” Missy then pulled out a knife, it was a short blade but it looked sharp. Holding it tightly in her right hand she pressed the blade firmly to her left wrist and added, “Don’t move, or I’ll stick you before I cut myself.”
The scene had become surreal.
Never in Jesse’s wildest dreams would he have expected to be in a situation quite like this: His daughter acting supremely out of character – threatening to stab him if he made one move toward her – all the while pressing this sharp-looking knife harder against her wrist. Meanwhile, Jane had slowly stepped beside Jesse while tugging nervously at the wide shoulder straps of her dress.
“Not another step lady!” Missy shrieked. “I swear to god, I’ll stab you.”
“Missy, honey,” said Jesse, a distant quiver to his voice, “whatever is bothering you we can fix, but we can’t do it this way. Please, put down the knife.”
“What’s wrong you can’t fix” – Missy’s eyes began to water as she held back tears – “not unless you can bring mom back. I tried hiding from my feelings, ignoring them when mom died. But then she” – Missy quickly pointed the knife in Jane’s direction then placed it back against her wrist – “had to act like her, talk like her, even sounded like mom. I’ve been reminded of mom every day since then, I miss her dad, I miss her so much.” Softly, she started to cry.
“Aw, honey,” said Jesse, reaching out and approaching his daughter, “it’s okay to think about your mom—”
“DON’T COME NEAR ME!” yelled Missy. Her eyeliner now smearing down her cheeks, she pointed the knife, trembling, first at her father then at Jane and back. “It’s not okay, I miss her and you obviously don’t need me anymore…I’m done.”
The young girl motioned to slit her wrist when Jane cried, “Missy, stop!” It sounded sincere, loving, yet most of all – commanding.
Missy slowly looked up, not making a move, while Jesse’s attention turned to Jane. The white hair woman stood there, a shaky arm outstretched with horror etched on her face.
“Can’t you see what you’re doing is wrong?” Jane pleaded. “The gift of life, human life, is one of His greatest gifts. The Almighty has a great plan for your life. He has created us in His image, He created us for a purpose. The Almighty has a specific plan in mind for everyone.”
Jesse recognized the words, they were from Genesis, and thankfully Jane delivered them just at the right time.
“And what plan would that be?” said Missy sarcastically. “The one where my mom dies? Or is it the one where you show up? Which one is it? Cuz neither one’s working for me right now!”
“You may not believe me, but I do understand your loss,” said Jane tenderly. She then looked down at the floor and started to walk past Missy, into the dining room and toward the kitchen. Stopping beside the dinner table, she turned around slowly as though lost in thought. When she finally looked up her eyes were vacant, but filled with tears ready to burst and wash down her pretty face. With Jesse watching expectantly and Missy on the verge, Jane continued, “I have also lost love and have sadly fought with a loved-one. My mother like yours died an unexpected death, cruel and painful too. She loved me and I loved her, and we were going to do so much together, all of the things that mothers and daughters do, but then it was taken away…forever.”
Jesse was astonished, it appeared Jane was getting her memory back. It was taking this unbelievably stressful situation to bring back who she was and where she was from. Out of the corner of his eye he looked at Missy, her face had softened slightly. He knew this story was hitting so close to home that she could not help but relate.
“And that’s not all I’ve lost,” said Jane, her face had become expressionless as the tears in her eyes gushed. “You see, there was this other love I had, equal to my mother’s if not greater. We loved each other, we wanted to be together, we wanted to, to…” – stiffly the young woman started to walk back to the entrance hall, back toward Missy and Jesse – “…ah, I can’t remember” – she caught herself with a dining room chair and paused, after rubbing her forehead and face momentarily, she continued – “…But worst of all, I’ve been separated from the greatest love, a love rivaling those that I’ve lost, the love of our Almighty. A love which comes unconditional, pure and whole, filling your mind, your heart, and your soul. His love is always there waiting for you, patiently, and even though you may shun Him or ignore Him, He will be there waiting for you with open and loving arms. For when you do finally come to Him, He will take you in and lift you up.”
The Fishers were awestruck.
Jane had spoken as though she knew God personally. But wasn’t there a time when Missy and Jesse felt that way, long ago? A time when Sara was alive, when they were a family, when they trusted and believed God would take care of everything. What happened?
The woman’s message, intentional or not, was slowly sinking into the pastor’s daughter. Missy noticed the knife in her hand, the look of terror in her father’s face, and was only now just realizing how stupid and idiotic she was acting. She was fighting against the very thing her mother, or at the least when Jane acted like her mother, wanted from her.
“Then there’s the loved-one I have argued with, mistrusted, and misplaced all of my anger to,” continued Jane, she turned her face away as though ashamed and added, “my father.” After another weighty pause she turned back and faced the Fishers, her eyes still distant as she pressed on, “I should have gotten closer to him when my mother died, but no, I pulled away instead. We should have talked more, but no, we talked less. We should have been there for each other, but no, we were more concerned with ourselves and others to care about the person truly closest to us. Now when I need him most, when I want to talk to him so desperately, I’m here instead, all alone.” Jane’s blank expression turned to Missy, she approached the eyeliner-smeared, tear-streaked girl, stopping but one step away from her and added, “Love yourself and your life, it is beautiful. Your mother has always loved you and always will. The Almighty forgives you, His arms are open, He wants you to come back to Him. Don’t make my mistake, love your father because he loves you.”
For several heart-pounding moments Missy’s mind raced as she took in everything she just heard. It was all so deep, so pointed, so, so…right. The young girl reacted the only way she knew she should.
“Oh daddy,” said Missy, reaching for Jesse and handing him the knife, “I’m so sorry.” Now hugging her father tightly, he felt the release of her pain as tears came.
“Now, now,” replied Jesse, returning his daughter’s hug just as tight, “it’s okay baby.” He pulled her softly from his shoulder and faced her smiling, “No need to apologize, I know you love me.”
“Daddy, but the horrible things I said to you. The horrible things I’ve done, how I’ve acted” – Missy put her head back on her father’s shoulder – “How can you forgive me? I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t worry honey, we’ll get past this together, you and me.”
Missy lifted her head and with big, soulful eyes said, “I wanna go back to church. I don’t mean just go to church, but go to church, be a part of it…like mom.”
Jesse’s face widened with joy. A lump formed in his throat as his eyes filled with tears, “Of course, Mis. I would love that. And I think your mom would too.”
They hugged fiercely, and then they both laughed.
“I know, I know,” said Missy, “I look pretty stupid with this mascara running down my face. Don’t I?”
“Well…” said Jesse, smirking, “I wasn’t going to say anything, but, yeah.” Still holding each other, he turned and added, “What do you think? Jane…?” The pastor tailed off from what he saw.
The young woman had walked halfway up the stairs, the blank expression and vacant eyes were gone, replaced with a look full of confusion and terror. Missy and Jesse let each other go and approached the bottom of the steps, staring up in alarm.
Jane was glowing.
It was a soft, white aura; the same kind seen around the heads of saints in old, medieval paintings, except this glow circled her entire body.
“What’s…happening…to me?” said Jane, looking down at herself.
Jesse was wondering the same thing. He was also about to ask her if she remembered any of what she had said – when someone knocked on the front door.