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The Slow Thaw

by Cheri Hardaway  
10/09/2007 / Short Stories

Zita studied the ornate doors leading into the sanctuary. Sanctuaries were places to run to in times of trouble. Yet four years ago, she'd run from this one, vowing never again to cross the threshold of Grace Church. She still recalled the sting of Mrs. Hunter's words after she'd dared to share her secret.

"Didn't I teach you girls that you need to be ladies? That today's world is full of lust and sin, and you'd best be careful to stay out of temptation's way. Obviously, you weren't listening."

While Zita stood stunned, Evangeline Hunter unsheathed the sword of the Spirit to finish her off.

"Mark my words, girlie. Hebrews 13:4 says, 'Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.' You, miss, are a fornicator. You'd better get your life right, or you'll find yourself in the hot place!"

Zita had gone to Mrs. Hunter first, upon learning that she was pregnant. She'd never told a soul about the rape, because she'd been afraid they wouldn't believe her. She'd foolishly left the mall with a boy she didn't know. He'd been charming in front of her friends, but as soon as they were alone, he'd changed. He'd forced himself on her and left her to find her own way home.

Two months later, the clinic confirmed her fear. The school nurse offered to arrange for an abortion, saying her parents didn't have to know. But Zita just couldn't.

She was a good girl. Mrs. Hunter doted on her, often holding her up as exemplary. She always had the week's scriptures memorized, and she knew the answers to the questions asked in class.

One thing she didn't know, however, was how to tell her parents about her predicament. They would push for an abortion, and she needed Mrs. Hunter's support to stand firm in her choice to have the baby. After all, it was under her tutelage in Sunday school that Zita learned all she knew of God's word. That's how she knew she couldn't terminate her pregnancy.

Zita bolted for the bathroom. Later, cried out, she crept down the hall to the foyer. She'd almost escaped when Mrs. Hunter's injured tones drifted from around the corner.

"How could she? I fill those girls with scripture every Sunday. When she told me she was pregnant, I stopped her mid-sentence. I told her exactly what God's word says about that kind of behavior!"

Zita didn't wait to hear more. As she fled, she promised herself two things: 1) She would never go back to Grace Chruch; and 2) She would not be bullied into a quick fix to her problem. She somehow managed to survive the next seven months, and little Angelina was placed for adoption.

Life went on as usual, but Zita felt anything but normal. She was confused. Why had God let this happen? Scripture said God would never leave her or forsake her. So where was He the night she was raped?

She graduated from high school and went away to college, and still her heart felt cold and frozen. It wasn't until she met Hannah Fisher, that it began to slowly thaw. Hannah was warm and transparent. She openly shared her own life's heartaches -- multiple miscarriages that rendered her barren, her husband's refusal to adopt children, and his subsequent affair that had sounded the death knell to their marriage. Yet she was still so happy, so strong, so free. Why?

Eventually, Zita risked sharing about the rape. Hannah's response was predictably compassionate, and Zita felt a great weight lift from her heart. She ventured a question.

"Hannah, do you attend church?"

"Yes. Do you?"

"I used to, until..." Zita's voice broke and her shoulders shook with quiet sobs.

Hannah held Zita, letting her cry.

After a time, Zita sat back and wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

It was Hannah's turn to ask a question. "What happened?"

Zita told Hannah about Mrs. Hunter.

Time passed, and the friendship between the two girls deepened. Zita desperately craved the peace she saw in Hannah's life. Why was she so different? One day she asked.

Hannah answered. "Zita, you know God's word, but you don't know God. He's so much more than do's and don'ts. He wants to be your Father, your Savior, your Friend."

That day, Hannah introduced her dear friend to her Best Friend. Hannah's love and friendship had whet Zita's appetite; she took the bait. Together Hannah and the Holy Spirit reeled her in.

Now, on spring break, Zita stood in the foyer of Grace Church, ready to extend the same forgiveness and friendship she'd found in her relationship with Hannah to Mrs. Hunter. She suspected Mrs. Hunter also knew God's word, but not God Himself. She prayed that would change today.


Scripture taken from NKJV

Knowing both the freedom of surrender and the pain of resistance, Cheri desires to bring God's hope to others suffering in life's deserts. She and husband Wayne have been blessed with four children and three grandchildren. Contact Cheri at [email protected]

Copyright 2007 Cheri Hardaway

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