Natalie sat backstage putting the finishing touches on her makeup. Tonight would mark the end of her high school drama career. Satisfied with her efforts, she made her way over to peek through the split in the stage curtain--dramatically lined eyes scanning the crowd one last time for her father’s face.
“Poor thing. You know who she’s looking for. . .again.”
Mrs. Cromwell was talented in the area of costume design, but Natalie often wished the elderly seamstress could fashion a hook closure for her lip as well as she did for the antebellum dresses she toiled over.
Natalie turned and gritted her teeth behind a closed-lipped smile as she walked past Mrs. Cromwell and the unfortunate southern belle she had in the clutches of her thimbled fingers.
Lord, forgive me for my bitter thoughts.
When Natalie was seven, she was bitten by the acting bug. She auditioned for anything and everything that came along. Her father Michael made it to many of her children’s theatre performances, but his appearances eventually became less common.
A couple of years later, Natalie came home from school one day in tears. She ran right past her mother, slamming the bedroom door behind her.
“Michael, you have to talk to her. She’s old enough to understand.”
Michael knocked gently on the door. Natalie answered, hiding her face behind a butterfly shaped pillow.
“You’ve been hearing some things that are upsetting you haven’t you?”
“Yes, D-Daddy. Kristen s-said. . .that her daddy s-said that you. . . that you are g-going to end up dead in an alley somewhere.”
Michael pulled Natalie away from her tear soaked butterfly and held her on his lap. He gave her a thumbs-up sign--their little private signal that everything’s alright. Natalie smiled and stuck her little thumb in the air.
“Nat, let’s talk about what’s going on. I got a call today about Sarah. There was a new report of a sighting down on 18th Street, but it looks like she slipped away again. Don’t ever think I don’t love you, and don’t worry about me. God is always with me when I’m down there.”
Natalie’s drug addicted older sister Sarah had been missing for years. Michael had searched tirelessly for her to no avail--even after the police had given up. Sarah did not want to be found.
After that day, Natalie understood her father. The whispers still got to her over the years, but she held her head high--always the composed actress.
She knew all the talk about 18th Street and the filth that dwelled there was born of ignorance and fear. Prostitutes, drug dealers and addicted teenage runaways were less than an afterthought to most, but not to Michael.
Michael’s leaving the largest church in the community after serving as pastor for 20 years left a bewildered and divided congregation. If he couldn’t save Sarah, maybe at least other families could be spared the same heartache. Starting the 18th Street Church was the most difficult task Michael had ever undertaken.
The fruits of Michael’s labor were becoming evident. People were coming to Christ and turning their lives around--but at a price. He was accused of abandoning his family.
Natalie knew the truth. She knew and loved the Lord thanks to her father. Maybe he was trying to make up for what happened to Sarah, but this was no self-serving attempt at redemption. It was the most selfless act Natalie had ever seen and she was proud of her father.
“Places, everyone--five minutes.”
Natalie took deep a breath. Once again she walked to the curtain.
Lord, if he isn’t here this time, I understand. Please keep him safe wherever he is.
As she gazed across the audience she spotted a group of children gathered in the back of the auditorium. Natalie squinted her eyes against the hot glare of the stage lights. In the middle of the group stood Michael ushering the children to their seats like a mother hen.
“So that’s the church business he had tonight!” Natalie howled with laughter trying to keep the forming tears from ruining her makeup.
“Poor thing’s finally lost it,” Mrs. Cromwell muttered, causing Natalie to laugh even harder.
Michael counted to three and Natalie simultaneously received 20 little thumbs-up signs--from the 18th Street Church children’s group.
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