The Tempter Comes

7) Behind the Storm



7         Behind the Storm


He does not struggle with sin; he gladly lets it win every time



                Thomas descended the stairs but as he got near the bottom he slowed down. Mrs. Donnelee was sitting with her elbows on the kitchen table and her head buried in her hands. Toni was still asleep. Thomas crept over on his tip toes and quietly pulled out the chair opposite her. He knew that she must have heard him, but she did not stir. He sat down and watched her waiting for an indication of anything. She did not move. Finally he spoke in a near whisper. “Are you OK? Are you not feeling well?”

                She spoke slowly, her words like shadows. She did not move her head. “I used to like talking about my grief. I would find some comfort in the words of those who shared similar sorrow. But eventually both my words and theirs became hollow echoes. I grew numb to the repetition.” She exhaled a small sigh and then continued.

                “First it was Jim. Now it is Carl. I try not to be harmed by sadness. I try to push it away or bury it under business and sometimes it works for a while but then it returns; it always returns. Sometimes the worst pain is the dull kind because it lingers, it is relentless. It does not twist your body like angry fists and then leave. Instead it is like a disease that rots you away and never leaves until its host is dead.

                “They say every pain has a value yet mine seems to come cheaply.

                “Last week I was walking behind the house and I saw a beetle on its back with its legs hopelessly flailing. I just stood there staring at it. It was very odd. In the past I would not have hesitated to flip it over and let it continue on. But this time I wasn’t sure if the more humane choice would have been to let it wear itself out and then die. For several minutes I watched its turmoil not knowing to flip it over or to walk away.” She still did not lift her head. “But, yes, I did reach down and flip it over.

                “I… I just don’t know what to do with Carl. His words rip through me like a bullet. They are filled with such anger. They sting like a shovel hitting stone. I don’t think he realizes just how much he hurts me. But then again, maybe he does. I don’t know. I just don’t know.” There was a long silence. Thomas stared at the table in front of her elbows.

                “I pray for him. I pray for him all the time.” She slightly rolled her head back and forth in her hands. “It’s all that I have left.”

                Upstairs, Toni’s door shut and her feet could be heard on the steps. Mrs. Donnelee looked up towards the stairs with a soft smile as though held up by pins.

                Toni crossed over to her mother. “Good morning, Momma.”

                “Good morning, sweetheart,” she responded. They kissed cheeks as Mrs. Donnelee’s hand momentarily cradled the back of Toni’s head.


Mrs. Donnelee, Toni, and Thomas sat down in the second pew with Toni in the middle. Even in a church of 500 people there was always room in the front.

Out of the corner of his eye Thomas saw someone impatiently herding several others into the first pew.

“Don’t dawdle,” the father was whispering loudly, “You’re distracting everyone by lolly-gagging.”

Of course everyone was ignoring the children and was more riveted by his weekly show of petulant hand gestures and cockroach hissing. The two children sat down in a simultaneous plop.

Toni likewise sank into dejection. She leaned over to Thomas, “I hate with the fire of a thousand suns sitting behind Floyd Fullman in church.”

“Why?” asked Thomas.

“You’ll see. I’d rather coat my tongue with thumbtacks then endure an hour and a half of his tyranny.”

“Wow, I sense some hostility here,” remarked Thomas.

With emphasis on the first word Toni said, “I’m not the one who’s hostile. You just wait and see. It won’t be long now.”

Sure enough it was only a minute later.

“Stop swinging your leg,” Floyd said sternly to his son, “You’re in church. You should be sitting quietly and meditating.”

The son obeyed like a whipped dog. Toni looked at Thomas with vindication. Thomas merely looked at disgust at the back of Floyd’s head.

Then Thomas whispered to Toni, “Isn’t he the one that we saw in the deli yesterday?”

“That’s the one.”

The service was starting and the worship leader asked everyone to stand. Floyd grabbed his daughter by the elbow to lift her up. Apparently she did not spring up quickly enough to his liking. At the pause at the end of the first verse he whispered to his daughter, “Put more heart into it.”

Toni and Thomas just looked at each other. “Maybe a thousand suns are not enough,” thought Thomas.

Throughout the service the two Fullman children fidgeted too much, were not attentive enough, did not stand straight enough, did not find the verse in the Bible fast enough, coughed once (oh, the horror of that—you had thought that they ripped the cross off of the wall), and were not making enough eye contact with the pastor. All the meanwhile the wife took no notice and did nothing. She just sat there with her hands politely folded.

Neither Thomas nor Toni could focus for more than a minute or two on the preaching. They were either watching with disgust Mr. Fullman’s latest scolding or were waiting for the next one. It was becoming a game to Thomas to see if he could figure out what they were doing “wrong” that anticipated the next scolding. Even Mrs. Donnelee shook her head a couple of times.

At the end of the Benediction all four of the Fullmans stood up and, making no eye contact with anyone, marched up the center aisle and out the back door. Only twice did Mrs. Fullman manage a weak smile as she passed several of the women of the church. The children followed like ducklings.

Toni and Thomas watched their rapid exit. When they had all disappeared Toni turned to Thomas. “See, what did I tell you? His constant tyranny is so distracting that I couldn’t concentrate on the service. I can hardly even tell you what the sermon was about.”

“Well, you got that right,” replied Thomas. “I just kept thinking about how I would love to snap his earlobe with a rubber band, but I’m sure your mother would be disapproving.”

“Yes, a good admonishment would visit when you got home,” answered Toni with conviction. “However, I must admit that I’ve considered doing worse. And in church yet! I should be ashamed.”

“But you’re not,” Thomas said with a smile.

A number of people came over to Thomas and expressed their delight to see him back again.

When they got to the back of the church the pastor greeted them both warmly. “I’m so glad to see that you will be visiting with us again this summer, Thomas. It is always a pleasure to see you.”

“Thank you pastor,” replied Thomas. “I’m always encouraged by your sermons and look forward to them.”

“Such a fine lad,” the pastor said with a gentle mock condensation and smile as he patted Thomas on the top of the head. Then he leaned down so that his head was between Toni and Thomas’ and he whispered, “I give you both credit for your discipline and focus because Floyd Fullman’s antics distract me to no end when I’m up there. I don’t see how you can sit behind him.” Then he stood up, gave them both a good slap on their shoulders, and walked away.

Thomas and Toni looked at each and burst out laughing.

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: