“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
–Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)
“Move that couch a little bit to the right!” one of the moving men yelled. “We want it to clear that door.”
After the group of men managed to set the couch down without incident, one of the younger boys who was helping sent up a cheer.
“I’m done! I’m done! It’s time to have some fun!”
“It’s true you’ve worked hard,” Brenda called from the kitchen.
“And when the delivery man gets here,” Ellie added, “it’ll be time for lunch. But don’t forget our agreement: since I didn’t have paper plates, you guys get to do dishes when we’re done.”
“That way,” Blossom said, stepping into the living room, “we can get ready for street ministry tonight. Hurry up.” She motioned to the dining area. “We’ve been working hard too, and the drinks are all laid out.”
The table was set up for a buffet-style meal, and the room buzzed with conversation. As they waited to eat, a large man spoke up, breaking the silence. “So, what made you three decide to become roomates?” Before anyone could answer he quickly added, “I think it’s pure genius.” He slurped his drink loudly.
“Well, what can I say?” Brenda asked, smiling. “But seriously, we just thought it all made perfect sense.”
“Genius?” grumbled another man. “I could have been out playing golf. Today’s my day off.”
“Oh, come on, Frank. You know there’s nowhere else you’d rather be,” pastor John interupted, as he walked in. “All three girls are friends who share a common bond. This way, they can not only have their Bible studies together, but street ministry meetings as well.”
“That’s right,” Ellie chimed in. “Now transportation is no longer an issue. When Bread of Life was open, I could just walk there, but their closing put a stop to that. The woman who opened her dorrs to me from Gabriel’s Girls lives across town, and public transportation isn’t always dependable. I could tell you some stories that would curl your hair.”
Before she could finish her thought, the dorbell rang, and everyone rushed to the door like a pack of hungry wolves.
Meanwhile, Topaz was getting settled in her hotel room. It was admittedly small, but tastefully furnished. She looked around at the beautiful pictures of the English countryside, but she was so weary that she stretched out on the inviting bed.
Knowing she had to get ready to deliver her findings to the medical convention that night, however, she told herself not to give in to temptation. A bundle of nerves, Topaz shook herself, but nothing seemed the same after talking to Austin. She couldn’t put her finger on what troubled her, but everything in her world was blurry, as though she needed new glasses.
“I need a divine touch,” she told herself.
As she knelt in prayer, Topaz poured her heart out To God.
“Dear Father, I am so small,” she cried into her pillow. “I need your help. I feel totally out of place, like David must have felt when he went up against Goliath with the slingshot.
“You know, God, that this symposium is a worldwide gathering of the keenest medical minds … and then there’s me. Going over my papers on the plane was humbling, and they reminded me of how short I fall.
“I have to confess that I don’t really know why I’m here, but You do. I feel an extra weight on my shoulders, Father, and I need to give that to You as well.
“It was a scary feeling when my director took me aside before I left. She let me know how much she’s depending on me, and what this meeting means to her. It’s not merely important. It could be crucial to the population at large, and You said You’d never leave or forsake me.
“So right now, God, I want to thank you for being faithful, but I need your guidance. I don’t feel wise or faithful, though my being sent here is truly an honor. So no matter how I feel, I want to give You the glory, and thank You that Your Holy Spirit is paving the way for me. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
When she was done, Topaz felt an unexplainable peace, knowing that with God all things are possible. But like an unbridled horse, her mind began to wander, and she knew that she would have to pray continually to maintain that peace.
Getting up, Topaz mused aloud, “God, I know You have sent me here, but did You arrange the meeting between me and Austin?”
Topaz was lost in a maze of thought, but she knew she had to trust God to guide her. Retrieving her Bible from her suitcase, she flipped through its pages, meditating on a scripture that seemed to be written just for her.
“Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
“Okay, God, I sort of understand this verse, but how does it apply here?”
Then, chiding herself, she looked in the mirror and put on a stern face. But as she relaxed, God seemed to answer back, “A lack of focus on Me will pull you in two different directions.”
With renewed purpose, Topaz quoted, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Now she was determined to draw on that power.
“This preoccupation is silly, anyway,” she told herself. “I meet a handsome and mysterious cab driver in Phoenix, and my head is instantly turned. I’ll probably never see him again, so I ask You to forgive me. Anyway, Lord, I have to prepare for tonight.”
Still feeling restless, Topaz decided she needed some fresh air to clear her mind. Walking to the closet, she slipped on a jacket and hurried down the hall to the elevator.
Topaz had forgotten to check her phone for the weather in downtown London, so she was glad she’d worn something heavy when she reached the lobby. It was a cold, gray and damp night, and the clouds which greeted her as she looked out the window tried to steal her joy.
Topaz looked into her purse, praying all the while, and took out some 3-by-5 cards containing favorite Bible verses. Finding one that especially spoke to her heart, she pondered it as she walked outside.
“We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
“Father,” Topaz whispered, “I need help from Your Word. Getting rid of these thoughts on my own is like shooing away a swarm of pesky flies, but I thank You that You’re fighting this battle for me.”
With a new song in her heart, Topaz tried to blend into the busy throng. Caught up in the crowd’s rhythm, she drifted along aimlessly, and thoughts of God began to fade into the background. She forgot about concentrating on scripture as the hectic sounds of the city filled her senses. She also found the busy pace mesmerizing, and she was absorbed in the collective consciousness of the crowd. People were pushing and shoving, and Topaz was swept along by the torrent of humanity. She wondered where all these people might be going in such a hurry.
The multi-cultural collage before her was new and hypnotic. She found that studying each face further enthralled her, so she decided to play a little guessing game with herself and try to surmise where each pedestrian was headed.
Intrigued by the sights, smells and sounds of London, Topaz was jostled about as she turned a corner. Her eye fell on a sign which read, “Have a spot of tea with Classic Bus Tours, and experience London in a new way.”
Wanting to learn more, Topaz crossed the street. However, the neighborhood that greeted her was quite run-down, and she was lost. Panicking, Topaz continued to glance over her shoulder, no longer feeling safe. Fortunately, the prominent brick building which housed Classic Bus Tours was new, and it stood out in the neighborhood like a soldier standing at attention.
“I’ll go inside where I’m safe and ask a clerk for directions,” she thought.
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Once Topaz finally got through the line, she stepped up to the counter. “I need directions to the Landmark Hotel, please.”
The statue-like clerk yawned. “Why don’t you just hop on the bus?” he asked, putting on a mechanical smile. “We go right by there. On the way, you might catch a glimpse of the Queen at Buckingham Palace. You will also see Big Ben, and you might want to take a spin on the London Eye.”
Since the city awaited, and Topaz figured she might never have a chance to explore London again, she thought about what the clerk had said. Then, breaking into a smile, she thought, “Why not?” and bought a ticket.
“Fine,” the robotic voice said in a detached tone. “It will be 15 minutes before the next bus arrives.”
As she waited, thoughts of Austin began to return and, growing tired, she decided to indulge them. She began to fantasize, allowing her mind to roam, and wondered what he was doing at that moment. But reality struck her like a fist she hadn’t expected, and just like that the 15 minutes were over.
Shaking herself, Topaz got up, and as she headed towards the bus, she asked herself why her thoughts of that cab driver really mattered. After all, the probability of their paths crossing again was almost zero.
She tried to put herself into his shoes. The diner was in a bad part of town, so why would he want to go there for a free piece of pie, when he could go somewhere else without the risk?
Thoughts of Topaz had been driving Austin crazy all week. She seemed to have a mesmerizing effect on him, and he paced the floor until the carpet in his little apartment was almost worn through.
The beautiful and amazing Topaz had captivated him from the moment she stepped into his cab. While he couldn’t place her, Austin knew he had seen her before. The thought of never seeing her again was beyond comprehension. It felt disconcerting, to say the least.
While he was waiting between fares, he came to a decision. Topaz would be coming home from London that night, and he would stop at the diner where she worked. Although he was sure that her offering him a free piece of pie was nothing more than a gesture of friendship, he knew he had to make contact with her again.
Austin was not about to let her slip through his fingers after their short ride to the airport. He felt like they had begun to form an embryonic bond, and he prayed that it would grow stronger with time, according to God’s will.
He had carefully saved the scrap of paper containing her address, and when it was time, Austin entered it into his GPS.
Topaz was rather skittish, and she reminded him of a frightened deer, running away before others could get to close to her. So while he didn’t know just why this was, Austin decided he would have to act somewhat casual and detached around her for now. All Austin knew for sure was that he had more in mind than just a casual encounter.
But when he sat down on a stool at the counter to order that night, Topaz was nowhere to be seen. When the cab driver asked about her, the other girls at the counter spoke up. Topaz was exhausted from jet lag, so Jill was covering for her.
“If you want to see her, you’ll have to come back tomorrow,” they said.
Shaking his head, Austin told them that, unfortunately, returning the next day would be impossible. Cab driving had been slow, but he had to do the work regardless.
“Could that be because you haven’t been able to keep your mind on your slow work since you met Topaz?” asked another waitress with a grin. “She is awfully pretty, you know.”
“Of course not,” Austin lied. “I need to work an all-nighter to pay the rent.”
Sighing, Austin was pushing his stool away from the counter when a tall, slim waitress with dark circles under her eyes came over to him.
“Hi, my name’s Jill. I’m the manager here, and I couldn’t help overhearing you. How can I help?”
“I have an important message for Topaz. Will you see that she gets it?”
Nodding, Jill handed him her order pad and took the pencil out from behind her ear. Then she motioned to the clientele and said, “Please be quick.”
Grabbing the pad without a word, he scrawled, “Dear Topaz, I need to hurry, but I have important information for you concerning the Bread of Life shelter. Please let me help you through your grief. Here is my number. Please call me, as I am busy and I can’t stop back here for a while.”
Then, getting back in to his cab, Austin logged in to receive the calls in that area.
He tried to go on with business as usual for the next few days, but as he sat at a stoplight one day, a thought hit him out of the blue. He was almost sure he had seen Topaz at the mission, serving meals in the soup kitchen when the shelter first opened.
“I didn’t get a good look at her then,” he muttered as the cars began to move, “but I’d know that face anywhere.”
Austin was on his way to pick up a regular that night when his cell phone rang. Without looking at the screen he said shortly, “Mrs. Jones, you’ll have to be patient. Traffic is extremely heavy tonight, and it will take me about 10 more minutes to get there, but I’m on my way.”
“My name isn’t Mrs. Jones,” a woman’s voice said in feigned exasperation. “It’s Topaz–you know, from the airport.”
“Are you one of my customers?” Austin teased, playing along.
“No,” Topaz snapped. “Don’t you remember? You left a note asking me to call you.”
“Topaz?” He pretended to muse, feigning confusion. “Weren’t you one of my customers the other day? … Oh yes, now I remember!” Austin cried out as though the light had blinked on in his head, but Topaz interupted.
“Cut it out, pal! If you’re busy, I can call you back at a better time.”
“No,” coughed Austin, scrambling for words. “I was only joking. Of course I know who you are! This couldn’t be a better time.
“Let me explain about Mrs. Jones, though. She really is a customer. She’s making a grocery run, and to tell you the truth, I don’t charge her anything. Because of that, I can’t set a particular time for her. I run her to the store when business is slow.”
“So you’re telling me that you’re doing your good deed for the day.”
“Something like that,” Austin mumbled.
“Well, speaking of good deeds,” she replied slowly, “you said in your note that you wanted to help me with the new shelter.”
“So I did,” answered Austin. “Have you called Mr. Davis back yet?”
“No, this trip to London took a lot out of me, and I needed a few more days to think. Then I got your message, and to be honest with you, it really seemed like a sign.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I was in England, I asked God to show me the path ahead, and to be truthful with you, Austin, I hoped our paths might cross again. While I can’t explain it, God seemed to let me know that you might have some insight about this whole issue. I’ve been vacillating about it, and I don’t know which way to turn.”
“We need to talk,” Austin agreed. Then, chuckling with a smile in his voice, he asked, “When do you get off?”
“Not until midnight,” she groaned.
“Well, I know you’re tired, but I think what I have to say will make up for it. Let me take some other calls, and I’ll give you a midnight cab ride.”
To Be Continued …
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