Excerpt from “The Dutiful Deaconess”

I have wanted to share the first chapter from a manuscript I am working on that will confront abuse in Christian marriages, a topic that is often ignored in churches. Please know up front that this is NOT about my marriage, and I started writing it before my husband had been asked to be a deacon!

CHAPTER ONE

Gabrielle Tipton studied the bill in her hand, her eyebrow furrowed with confusion. According to GMAC, the note on the 2011 Chevy Impala that she shared with her husband, Dean, had not been paid in three months. Naturally, GMAC wanted their money or the car would be repossessed. Gabby’s knew she would have to discuss this with her husband. The very thought of having a conversation about the family’s finances with him made her stomach tighten.

Gabby didn’t notice the keys turning in the front door lock or when Dean opened the door and stepped into the foyer. He appeared suddenly in the entryway to the dining room where she sat at his grandmother’s mahogany table.

“Gabby?” Dean said curtly, startling her.

“Oh! Sorry.” Gabby sprang into action. She took Dean’s work tote out of his hands and put it in his office nearby. When she came back, he was still standing, waiting impatiently for his wife to pull out his chair. She did so, then loosened his tie and removed it for him after he had taken his seat at the head of the table. Gabby sat two chairs away from him before she slid the GMAC envelope to him. “This came in the mail today,” she said hesitantly. “Might you have forgotten to pay them? Do you want me to make a payment over the phone or do one online? I’m just a little concerned about this.”

Dean skimmed the letter, his face darkening. He pushed it away and glowered at Gabby. “I’m concerned about something, too. You want to know what I’m concerned about?”

She had no choice but to nod yes. There was no room for sarcasm when Dean was in a bad mood, which seemed to be all the time these days.

“I’m concerned that I’ve been sitting at this table for five minutes and there’s no dinner in front of me,” he barked, gesturing to the empty table in front of him.

Gabby rushed to the kitchen and retrieved the plate she had prepared for her husband from the microwave—fried pork chops smothered in gravy and mushrooms, mashed potatoes with even more gravy, skillet-fried corn, and fresh, homemade biscuits. Dean dropped his head for two seconds of prayer before he dug his fork into the mashed potatoes and stuck a heaping load into his mouth.

“Go put on a pot of coffee for me. I’m going to be up late getting some work done.” Dean did have a pretty demanding job as a project manager for a software company, and although Gabby knew his company had recently contracted with a major health system in the area to provide it with a new electronic health record, Gabby did not understand how he could still manage to bring work home every day after working ten or twelve hours.

Ever the dutiful, long-suffering wife, helper to her husband, Gabby went into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee as Dean had requested. Upstairs, she heard a loud bump, followed by a wail. Her breath caught in her throat as she wondered which of their five sons was misbehaving.

“Hey!” Dean yelled crossly from the table. “Go get those kids in line.”

Gabby raced upstairs, mentally preparing the chastisement she planned to deliver to the offender. When Gabby and Dean were first dating, Dean said that he had always wanted a large family. On the other hand, Gabby had spent most of her formative years going from one abusive foster home or group home to another after both of her parents died in a car accident. She only wanted two kids and hoped she’d get one boy and one girl. Dean got what he wanted, but he definitely didn’t appreciate it.

Ezra, their eldest son, was seven years old, a delightful, intellectual boy who had his father’s striking features and his mother’s easygoing spirit. Dean and Gabby waited for two years before they tried for a daughter. Instead, they got two more sons, twins Nehemiah and Jeremiah, who were now energetic, curious, and oftentimes rambunctious five-year-old kindergartners. Their final push for a girl resulted in yet another set of twin boys. Matthew and Luke were three-year-old spitting images of their mother. Gabby had several complications during her last pregnancy and a nightmarish delivery, after which her OB/GYN recommended that she no longer have children. Gabby was happy to oblige. Dean was not.

As disappointed as he had been when he heard the OB/GYN say that Gabby need not attempt another pregnancy, it did not show in how he treated his family. Dean found every rule possible not to spend any time with them whatsoever, unless it benefited his image. He had very strict rules about their home life, even going so far as to develop a detailed, hour-by-hour schedule outlining the daily chores he expected Gabby to complete. When he got home from work, Gabby had to have his dinner prepared, and the boys had to be out of his sight and quiet so he could enjoy his dinner in peace.

Gabby found Matthew in the room he shared with his brother, crying and rubbing his head. Luke was staring at him, wide-eyed, with a Tonka truck in his hand. It was painfully obvious that Luke had taken the truck from either Jeremiah or Nehemiah, as the two littlest boys were not left alone with heavy toys, and banged his twin over the head with it. Sighing, Gabby calmed Matthew down and kissed his head, and scolded Luke gently as she removed the truck from his hand. She looked in on the other boys. They were all sitting quietly on their beds.

Dean finished his meal and promptly called for Gabby to bus his dishes and bring him his coffee. He also called the boys down and had them line up as he usually did, oldest to youngest. He didn’t bother to hug them or offer them a warm greeting.

Being the oldest, Ezra was more aware than his brothers that something about his home life was not right. He knew that his dad was different from his friends’ dads. When Dean was not home, Ezra was talkative, inquisitive, and fun. Dean’s presence turned the boy into a nervous wreck. Gabby saw the beads of sweat from on his head, and she choked back tears of her own.

“Tell me something you learned today,” Dean said crisply. “What is something your mother taught you today?”

Gabby dropped her head. On the surface, this seemed like a test for the boys, to see if they were listening to the lessons Gabby painstakingly planned and executed for her children each day. But it was not a test for them as much as it was a test for her. If either of those boys could not recite something meaningful they’d gleaned from their mother’s teachings, there would be hell to pay.

“We planted flowers and talked about photosynthesis, sir.”

Dean was not impressed. “And? What can you tell me about photosynthesis?”

“That…that…plants use the rays from the sun and water from the soil to make the sugar that it eats.”

“Good.” Dean caught Gabby’s eye and nodded his approval. “Nehemiah?”

“I can add two-digit numbers!” Nehemiah said proudly, holding up a worksheet that he had successfully completed.

Again, Dean was unmoved. “You missed two, but it looks like you’re off to a good start. Jeremiah?”

Gabby’s heart stopped. Dean made the other boys nervous, but poor Jeremiah was downright scared of his father. He was so scared of Dean that words often escaped him, something that infuriated Dean. As such, Gabby always spent extra time during the day trying to help Jeremiah memorize a short speech on something he’d learned, something simple that he could quickly recite to Dean.

Jeremiah put his head down and mumbled as fast as his lips would allow him, “Mommywasteachingmehowtotelltimeontheplaywatches. Icantelltimetothehourandhalf-hour.”

Gabby sighed inwardly with relief. It wasn’t the best delivery, but Dean was satisfied. He moved on to Matthew and Luke, who happily sang a song that Gabby had ad-libbed for them to teach them about rhyming words—bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat.

“Very good, all of you. Sit down here and eat your dinner, and then you can play in the basement until bath time.”

Mealtimes always had the potential to be disastrous since they involved five hungry little boys, and Dean never stuck around to help out. Coffee in hand, Dean left the dining room to begin his inspection of the house. Now it was time for him to make sure Gabby had done everything he wanted her to do during the day—never mind the fact that she had five little boys to feed, clothe, teach, and entertain as she did so. Gabby let out another sigh of relief when she heard the door to his office close—that meant he hadn’t found anything to be out of place. As Gabby scrambled to fix plates, pour milk into Sippy cups, and cut meat into bite-sized morsels that were manageable for clumsy three-year-old fingers, she heard the sounds of gospel music wafting from the office. She shook her head with disgust.

Gabby ate dinner with her sons. In the grand scheme of things, they weren’t noisy—they were too afraid to make much noise when their father was home. They were, however, quite messy. She instructed each of them to carry their empty plate and cup into the kitchen before they went downstairs to play. As usual, Jeremiah dropped his, splattering the remnants of mashed potatoes and gravy across the hardwood floor. Gabby didn’t blink an eye—she was going to have to mop the floors anyway. It was just one of Dean’s many rules. Actually, it was part of what he designated the “After dinner procedures”. The beautiful mahogany table and chairs had to be polished—and not just the table top and the seat of the chairs, no, that was not enough. Gabby had to polish the legs as well. The dining room and kitchen floors had to be swept and mopped thoroughly. The backsplash, countertops, and stove had to be wiped clean, and Dean did not like to see any swipe marks on their stainless steel appliances, nor could there be any dishes in the sink or dishwasher when Gabby went to bed.

Twice while Gabby was cleaning Dean called her for refills for his coffee. Each time she went into the office, she saw that his computer was on, but it didn’t seem as though he was doing much work. As she handed him the second full pot of coffee, she ventured timidly, “Would you like for me to make some arrangements for the Impala?”

Dean whirled around in his computer chair. The look on his face let her know that the ten or so cups of strong coffee had done nothing to even out his mood. Immediately she regretted having brought it up.

“What do you mean, ‘make some arrangements’?” Dean sneered. “What can you ‘arrange’? You don’t have a dime to your name. You don’t bring a single dollar into this house. So tell me, what ‘arrangements’ do you plan on making?”

Nothing infuriated Gabby more than when Dean denigrated her position as a stay-at-home mother. Truth be told, it was the lot in life that he had chosen for her in order to protect his prestigious image. Although Gabby had been swiftly moving up the ranks in the primary care clinic she had worked for before Matthew and Luke were born, and had even been in the running for the assistant manager position that opened shortly before she left—Dean was more interested in what his colleagues thought, in whether or not he appeared capable of supporting his family, than his wife’s ambitions. Unbelievably so at most times, Dean was on the deacon board at their church. None of the other deacons’ wives worked, so neither could his. At his job, he was always happy to boast that he had provided his wife with a beautiful, five-bedroom, four and a half bath home, and that she was more than pleased to make caring for that home her life’s work. Unfortunately, that was a colossal lie, and Dean’s whole image was a sham.

From the outside looking in Dean and Gabby had a wonderful life. They had married ten years ago after two years of dating when she was twenty and he was twenty-two. Like a lot of other foster children, Gabby had aged out of the system when she was eighteen and struggled to find her footing. For several months she had no home. Depressed that she had no idea how to make it on her own and absolutely no support system, Gabby moved into a homeless shelter, where she hooked up with a diverse band of miscreants who quickly introduced her to drugs and alcohol, namely marijuana, but occasionally whatever pills her friends could get their hands on. Gabby saw a cash cow in the pill business and managed to secure a job in a nursing home as a janitor. She struck up a relationship with the medication aide and began stealing pills from the residents and selling them at the shelter for money.

Bringing drugs and alcohol into the shelter was prohibited, and one evening Gabby was called into the shelter manager’s office for a meeting. Freda Reynolds, a portly Black woman in her fifties, had the perfect combination of compassion and steadfastness that enabled her to successfully run a shelter. She was a no-nonsense stickler for conformity to the rules, particularly those related to contraband. As she sat before Freda, still high from the weed she had just smoked only thirty minutes ago with Beth, another tenant, Gabby knew she was about to be dismissed from the shelter and tried to figure out a way to talk her way out of banishment. Unfortunately, the drugs had numbed her ability to form any coherent thought. Gabby also wanted to know who had squealed on her so she could render the snitch a serious beating on her way out.

Freda’s normally pleasant face was as hard as stone.

“Beth told me that you’ve been bringing drugs in here.”

Gabby’s mouth dropped open Beth? The same Beth she had just been smoking with?

“I really thought you’d be a bit smarter, Gabrielle. Beth’s best friend Kat is on the waiting list to get in here. She’s up for the next available bed, which, from this point forward, used to belong to you.” Freda pulled open her top desk drawer, reached in, removed a baggie full of weed and another baggie consisting of several pills, and plopped them both down on the desk in front of Gabby. “She was even kind enough to show us where you were hiding your stash.”

Gabby hung her head in shame, feeling defeated. Beth had laid the perfect trap for her, and she had been dumb enough to fall right into it. She had underestimated Beth—as far as Gabby knew, Beth was always too high on something to generate even one idea, let alone hatch a plan. Gabby started to get up.

“Wait.”

Gabby sat back down.

“I don’t know why I am doing this, but there is something endearing about you, Gabrielle.” Shaking her head and sighing, Freda picked up a small pad of paper and scribbled furiously on it in red ink. She ripped the paper off the pad and handed it to Gabby. “Here is the address to another shelter in Ypsi,” she explained. “I’ve already called them and told them to expect you. Normally beds are available on a first come, first serve basis, but they made an exception because of me, Gabrielle. Do not take any substances in there unless you like the idea of sleeping out on the streets and possibly getting raped and robbed and God knows what else.”

“Okay,” Gabby mumbled.

“I’m not done.” Freda sat down across from Gabby. “I was a foster kid, too, Gabby. Did I ever tell you that?”

Her interest renewed, Gabby looked up. “No.”

“Well, I was. Nothing happened to my parents—they just decided they didn’t want me. Well, my mom did. I don’t know much about my father. As for my mother, she was young and I guess wasn’t ready for the responsibility. She left me in a church, and I grew up in foster homes. Some of them were nice, but most of them were not. I understand what it’s like to always feel out of place, Gabrielle.”

Tears began to form in Gabby’s eyes.

“I aged out of the system and had nowhere to go and no way to survive,” Freda told her. “So do you know what I did?”

Gabby shook her head slowly.

“I started selling my body, Gabrielle. Can you think of anything more despicable?”

Gabby shook her head again.

“Me neither, and I used to be ashamed, but now I’m not. I found a place in Jesus where I’ll always belong, I’ll always be welcome, and all of the horrible things I’ve done will always be forgiven. My whole life was changed and yours can be too.”

It was a new beginning for Gabby. She had heard of this Jesus character before, but had no idea who He was or what He could do—or had already done—for her. However, she was so compelled by what she had just heard that she had to learn more. If Freda could go from being a prostitute to managing a homeless shelter, Gabby was curious to see what she could become. Deep down, she knew she was better than pandering pills to addicts.

“I don’t think Jesus would want me,” Gabby mumbled. “I’m a nobody.”

“Oh, darling, don’t believe that. Don’t ever believe that. Jesus wants us all to come as we are. Jesus is the epitome of love. He is not like we tend to be—judgmental and unforgiving. We are all something in His eyes. Think of it this way—God planned each and every one of us, down to every last detail. He even numbered the hairs on our heads. Isn’t that something?”

Gabby just looked at her.

“I like to imagine Him creating us. I can imagine Him taking a little bit of this from your mother and a little bit of that from your father. Maybe He took your daddy’s nose, and your mama’s eyes, your daddy’s intelligence and your mama’s strength, and threw them all in a big old pot and stirred it around. Then He blessed your mother—He told her, ‘I’m going to give you a precious child of mine, just for a little while. Take good care of her’. You see Gabby, I think our Creator takes a great deal of time and puts a great deal of thought into each and every one of us, because He loves us all just the same. When He makes us, I think He has good plans for us. Whether we fulfill them or not is up to us. God does not create ‘nobodies’.”

Freda folded her hands in front of her. “Do you have any idea what you want to do with the rest of your life, Gabrielle? Or have you just given up on yourself already?”

Gabby sighed. “I don’t see what I could be doing,” she admitted. “I have no training, no skills, no education…”

“Well, perhaps you ought to get some, don’t you think?” Freda asked curtly. “Gabrielle, it’s not going to be easy, but there are resources out there that would help you, particularly when it comes to your education. The shelter I am sending you to has a bigger resource pool than this one. There are people there that can help you apply for grants and scholarships and get you some education—if you really want it.”

Gabby’s eyes filled with tears. “I do, Freda. I don’t want to be a bum forever.”

She had no choice but to gather her bag of belongings and walk to the other shelter. On her way Gabrielle threw her drugs away.

 

 

It still needs polishing, but I am proud of what I have so far, and hope to be published someday!!!!!!!!

 

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