Jim composed himself on the porch for a second, before he stole through the door.
Brenda was with Lacy at the dining room table, pretending to eat cheerios. (What were they, from the '50's? And kids still went goo-goo over them. And mothers. Go figure.)
He sent up a, "Hiya, hon. How's the Cheerio battle?" to which Brenda answered, "Uh, oh."
"You're in love, aren't you?" She queried.
Jim was dumbfounded. He opened his mouth to ask the obvious, but he couldn't make the words come out.
"Well, the last two Sundays you came in cataloging pluses and minuses. This time, you want to talk about Cheerios? You must be in love with Corner Church. Nothing else could make you talk about Cheerios first.
"So, tell me all about it."
She was merciful.
Jim had a seat across from Lacy, and started eating Cheerios along with her. She giggled. He started pretending to eat her Cheerios, which made her laugh like crazy. She didn't need to know that there was no way her big, tough aerocar mechanic daddy was ever going to put a Cheerio in his mouth that had touched her fingers. And Brenda let him indulge his little weaknesses, so it was all good.
"Yeah, I'm in love," Jim admitted. "They pretty much knocked my socks off."
Jim struggled with what to say next. He remembered his dad saying that anything worth doing was worth waiting until you could do it together, but he wanted to give those people his life.
He knew the guys down at the shop would laugh him silly right now, but all the shirts his age were on 3 year child-proof civil unions. First person to leave forfeits an additional 20% over normal spousal support for remainder of term plus. They do what they please, and whatever it is, their "wives" go along and get along. One of them did have a child addendum written in, but it was a share-care situation. They could all still be nutty and get away with it.
That changed for Jim when he met the Lord. He had accepted the Lord, divorced society, and joined himself to the Walkers all in one night.
He went home that night, and told Brenda that he was going to marry her outright, and she about beaned him with a frying pan. It was only the grace of the Lord that convinced her to sleep on it 'til morning. She had almost run to the shelter for sanctuary that night. Halfway through the night, she had pulled him back in off the couch. He always figured the Spirit whispered something to her that night, and he never much cared what it was.
When they woke up that morning, he had to call in a little personal time at work. She wanted to know who these "Walkers" were, and what any of it had to do with them being married. She and Jim had experienced a devil of a time telling her father that they were going to go with the new short-term civil union for three years. He was a deeply religious man, and had tried to raise Brenda that way, though it hadn't stuck much. If she was going to change course, she needed to know exactly why, and she needed to know how - not when he got home from work.
Jim told her the whole story about the Messiah, and one flesh, and the mystery of Christ in marriage, and it was only the hardness of our hearts that ever made us separate. Brenda straightened him out on some doctrinal details her father had drilled into her, but he'd hit the highpoints right. He told her that Christianity was really about one large cosmic marriage, and that we all played our part. Civil unions were all about money, but marriage was all about sacrifice, and Christ had sacrificed everything to be joined to them. Not out of duty, but out of love. And since Jim loved Brenda more than anything, why shouldn't he promise her his whole life?
She gave him that, "and.....," look.
After a moment's fuddling it dawned on him, and he beamed, "But for me, it's no sacrifice at all!"
She read his eyes for just another moment, saw the absolute love and sincerity, and melted toward everything - him, the Walkers, and Jesus Himself. They upgraded their union a mere month later, and began their new life of effortless bliss.
[Yeah, yeah, of course you're right, dear reader.]
Jim was in love with everything. Brenda, the Walkers and Jesus all filled his heart beyond capacity depending upon whom he was with at the time. Usually, that was the Walkers. 7 mornings and 3 evenings a week, he was with one, some or all of them. Brenda was busy too, of course, and she was with Jim for at least half of those meetings, but with the end of the "child-proof" civil union came pregnancy. And with pregnancy came nesting. With nesting came conflict.
Jim experienced several months of conflict, as he pit his loves against each other. The Walkers and Brenda found themselves vying for the free time he wanted both to have. Neither side was a constant winner, and Jim was burning the candle at both ends, and a couple places in the middle, trying to have everything. He spent an awful lot of time fighting micro-naps.
Eventually, he noticed that Brenda was hurt by his absence, and the Walkers were just fine without him. This was finally his clue that Brenda had to come first on his priority list.
It had been a stroke of grace, because just a couple weeks later the anti-proselytizing laws were repealed, and the Walkers' days became numbered. He was deeply grateful to the Lord for the grace to choose wisely before he had been left with no choice. It had probably saved his young marriage, and more importantly, it saved his young relationship with Brenda. He was in luck, because Brenda knew how to forgive.
But all that was almost a year ago. Now, Brenda saw that old look back in Jim's eye again. He had found another, "Walkers," to love. And it wasn't even another, because Thom had been one of the Walkers back then, and he was a big part of Corner Church.
Jim knew all this was scary to her. But this time, he reminded himself, Karen would play a bigger role. Jim secretly wondered why Karen's role was so much bigger, but he sure hoped it would help. He was not sure whether this was a lesson from the previous Walker mistakes, or just the way Corner Church was run? Either way, he was sure that Karen would balance Thom's enthusiasms, and give Brenda more strength to defend herself against his own.
"You know," Thom said, "when I get excited about something, I can talk about it for hours. Let's don't do that this time. How's about we take Lacy for some ice cream, and I'll let you see it for yourself next Sunday. I'm expecting a phone call Thursday night to prepare for a Sunday class, but other than that I have nothing planned with Corner Church until you see it next week. How does that sound?"
Brenda looked at him closely yet again.
"I know I'm excited, but if it's really worth doing, you'll want to do it too. And if you don't want to do it, you'll have a good reason why not, and I'm sure I'll agree."
The words sounded wise, and Jim wondered where they came from. Whether Spirit-led or plain lucky, Jim was glad they were out there.
He said a quick thank you to the Lord, when Brenda smiled and said, "Let's go get some ice cream!"