Paulette Harper is an award-winning and best-selling author. She is the owner of Write Now Literary Virtual Book Tours and is passionate about helping authors succeed in publishing and marketing their books. Paulette has been writing and publishing books since 2008. Paulette is the author of That Was Then, This is Now, Completely Whole and The Sanctuary. Her articles have appeared on-line and in print.
Candace Walker, Kaylan Smith, Jordan Tate, and Tiffany Thomas have their share of sorrows, but neither of them realizes how deep the sorrow goes. What happens when they agree to meet for a weekend of relaxation in beautiful Napa County? Which one will leave the same or worse?
For Candace Walker, life has left her battered and bruised. Kaylan Smith has struggled with prejudice from her in-laws. After fifteen years of marriage, bitterness is trying to raise its ugly head for Jordan Tate, whose husband wants to call it quits. And for Tiffany Thomas, dealing with rejection has never been one of her greatest feats.
Although they have been friends for years, they thought they knew each other well. But will a secret destroy their relationship and bring the sisterhood to a complete halt? Will they be able to forgive and allow God to mend that which might be torn?
“Who cares anyway if I die? I hate my life; I curse the day I was born,” said Candace as she rolled out of her twin bed to face yet another day of sheer disappointments. Her feet landed on the beige, shaggy, dirty carpet that had seen better days. As she sat on the edge of her bed, she looked around the small apartment as though she was expecting to see something different, but nothing had changed.
“Lord, can I get a break? Can something good happen in my life?” she cried as her head collapsed in her hands. She knew within herself that today would be like all the rest: gloomy, sad, and most of all, lonely. After all she had experienced in life, how could she think today would be any different?
Candace lived in a small studio apartment off of School Street in the city of Pittsburg, California, a city surrounded by the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area. Her apartment had enough room for only one dresser and a nightstand, which she got at the neighborhood Goodwill store.
The walls of her apartment were dirty from years of cigarette smoke that didn’t escape out of the window. Her kitchen table was made of plywood, which she covered with a red table cloth. The table was encompassed by two chairs, one for her and the other one she had hoped would be occupied by someone who genuinely wanted to be with her. The blue and cream décor in her kitchen came from visiting the neighborhood garage sales. Her neighbors knew her so well because of the frequent visits she made to their sales. Although Candace always had a roof over her head, she did not like the environment in which she lived. After looking intently at her dwelling place, she lay back on her bed and stared at the ceiling. Her thoughts shifted from her disappointing apartment to her anger about the issues she had to deal with, problems that had been with her for years, issues with her family.
Since high school, life was hard for Candace. Almost every decision she made never retuned a good dividend. The men in her life came and went, except for Derrick. He stayed the longest, but his bout with kidney failure ended whatever dreams she had of getting out of what she called the “ghetto.” Derrick was her sure ticket to a better life, she hoped. The only consolation to his memory was the pictures on the stained walls and a locket she wore around her neck.
Candace grew up with both parents and two siblings. Her sister, Monique, was three years younger than her; her brother, Zach, was two years younger. Candace always felt that she got the worse end of the stick when it came to Monique. Monique was light-skinned with long, black, wavy hair, which belonged to her, by the way. Candace’s skin tone was a few shades darker than Monique. She was short in stature; five feet, three inches tall, to be exact. She wore her hair down and straight, although it mostly contained black hair extensions, which she bought from the neighborhood beauty supply store.
Monique was the image of her mother minus a few inches of hair. She stood five feet, eleven inches with a small frame; she could have been chosen as America’s Next Top Model. But Monique decided to study law, passing the bar on her first attempt; she then started her own practice and moved it to Los Angeles. Monique and her parents could not figure out how Candace didn’t make more of herself. To them, Candace was merely existing and taking up space. They wrote Candace off years ago.
Her parents would say they didn’t show favoritism to any of their children, but let Candace tell the story; she would disagree. Candace didn’t have a great relationship with her parents, nor did she have one with her sister. She longed to connect with her mother, Vivian, even dreaming of having meaningful conversations with her, but that never materialized. Vivian grew up without love, so showing love was not something she did or knew how to do.
Nothing Candace did was ever good enough for her parents. She realized long ago that they would never validate or accept her for who she was. And that always bothered her. The only relative that Candace found solace in was her baby brother.
Zach was the comic relief in the family and the only one who tried to keep Candace from running away from home when they were teenagers. Despite what he saw from his family, he found laughter to be a source of comfort. A joke at the right time would always make Candace laugh instead of crying many days. Now that he was older, his life revolved around school, his baby, and opening up his own barber shop.
Zach had similar features like his dad. He had a body like LL Cool J, muscular in built, which required him to spend more time in the gym and less time getting into trouble. His skin tone was the same as Candace’s, and his hair was black and curly, which he kept cut low.
Their dad, Robert, didn’t care about too much except a good home-cooked meal and the wrestling matches that he saw nightly. He was content to spend his time sitting in his brown leather recliner with a blanket next to the wooden table that had enough room to hold his can of soda, the remote control, and the cordless phone.
While reminiscing about one’s family may bring happiness to others, memories of her family only angered Candace even more. The longer she lay there, the angrier she got. In order to avoid another day filled with anger, she started thinking about how much her life would change for the better if only she could win the lotto or meet a rich man. But that wasn’t going to happen any time soon, especially if she continued to linger in the bed all day like she had been doing for the last few days. Candace sighed and finally decided to climb out of bed. Maybe today would be her lucky day.
Candace made her way to the small kitchen and began fixing breakfast. Today’s meal consisted of a slice of toast and coffee. Once she finished her breakfast, she stepped into the shower and let the warm water sooth her. She grabbed a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, and headed out the door.
Outside her apartment she could hear the normal chanting from the neighborhood kids. “There she goes,” the kids began to yell. Candace was often referred to as “crazy Candi” because many times while walking to the corner store to pick up her soda, cigarettes, and a lottery ticket, they often observed her muttering to herself. Whenever they mocked her, she would turn around and yell back at them.“I ain’t crazy,” she would yell. “I know y’all think I am, but I’m not. I’m talking to God. That’s something y’all young hoodlums should think about doing sometimes.”
While walking along the street, Candace decided to do something differently. Instead of passing by the church on the way to the store, she decided to go in and pray. She made herself comfortable in one of the pews. The soft music that played inside the church made her thoughts wander to the first time she went to church.
Candace was introduced to Christ by one of her friends, Kaylan, To Candace, going to church was the last thing on her mind or on her agenda. But she figured church couldn’t be any worse than being home with people who didn’t give love or show love. “I’ll give church a try,” she said to herself. “Maybe I could find some answers to my probing questions as to why God didn’t give me a loving family and why nothing good happened to me. Maybe the church folks would love me and help me, but most importantly, pray for me,” she said to herself.
She remembered the first time she walked into New Life Christian Center on Christmas day. All the people were raising their hands, which was so foreign to her. It didn’t seem real. She was feeling something, but didn’t know exactly what to call “it” or if “it” had a name. This was one feeling she couldn’t identify.
The church décor was beautifully decorated with poinsettias placed around the stage area. For the first time in Candace’s life, she thought that maybe this was exactly the thing she needed. When she and Kaylan entered the sanctuary, the usher wanted to sit them close to the front of the church, but Candace would not have it. She leaned toward Kaylan and said, “Oh no, can’t we sit near the back? I might need to go to the restroom.” Kaylan agreed. Seating them in the front was not a good idea for more reasons than one. And Kaylan didn’t want Candace’s first visit to New Life to be her last.
Kaylan motioned to the usher, “We’d like to sit in the back, if that’s okay.” With reservations, the usher directed them to the empty seats in the back of the church. During service, the choir did not sing songs that Candace had ever heard. Luckily, the words were plastered on the screen for people like her, the un-churched. Yet the sound that came from the choir calmed her apprehension. The choir leader invited everyone to stand and join along. Kaylan turned to Candace, as she stood up to join in on the praise.
“Come on, Candace; it’s okay. Let go and let God.” Candace looked skeptical.
“Let go and let God,” Candace muttered. “What in the world does that mean?” Maybe Kaylan will educate her on the church lingo later, she thought. Candace slowly stood on her feet and joined Kaylan and all the church folks who didn’t have the same problem as her. Not feeling as comfortable as Kaylan, Candace left her arms by her side.
As the music continued, people began clapping, shouting, and running around the church. Candace’s brown eyes widened as big as saucers as she watched all this, and her focus went from the choir to the little lady doing what appeared to be some type of praise dance. All Candace could do was laugh. A nudge from Kaylan on her arm got her attention back on the choir. After thirty minutes into the singing, the Pastor emerged and took the podium. “That’s Pastor Jonathon Williams,” Kaylan proudly announced to Candace “That’s my Pastor,” she said with excitement.
“Good morning, saints. This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice,” Pastor Williams said in a baritone voice.
“Praise the Lord,” echoed the congregation to the pastor; well, everyone except for Candace.
“First, the usher wanted to seat us in the front of the church. Then they wanted us to stand. Now we get to yell back to the Pastor?” Candace whispered right before Kaylan let out a loud “Glory to God.” More claps and more shouting came, and the applauses became louder. The roar reminded Candace of a sports game when the winning team finally scored. She remembered that, but had no idea “church” was anything like that.
“Today’s text comes from John 3:16. You may be seated,” said Pastor Williams.
Candace and Kaylan exchanged glances, and Candace’s voice let out a soft “Praise the Lord.” They immediately started smiling and took their seats.
Candace’s five-inch, black stilettos were not the ideal pair of shoes to wear to church. They were cute, but being cute was not good enough. Candace didn’t realize that it took preparation to come to church, something she’d have to really consider next time.
Kaylan reached down into her purse that was located on the floor and pulled out her notebook, a Bible, and a pen— all of which Candace had none.
“You taking notes?” Candace inquired. “You didn’t tell me to bring a notebook.”
“Don’t worry. Here you go.” Kaylan quietly tore out several pieces of paper from her notebook and handed them to Candace along with a pen.
“The words will be up on the screen, or we can share my Bible,” Kaylan said as they moved closer together on the seat. In his message, Pastor Williams talked about the reason why Jesus came to the world and why people needed to be saved; in his message, he explained the real meaning of love. While Pastor was speaking, the ushers were walking around the sanctuary, offering Kleenex to those who were apparently shedding tears. Candace declined the offer. Instead, she wiped the tear from her face with the back of her hand when the Pastor began to talk about love, something she yearned for from her family and men.
“God is love, and God showed His love by given the ultimate sacrifice by sending His son, Jesus,” said the Pastor. At one point in his message, he stated, “We try to find love in all the wrong places; the void in our lives can only be filled by God’s love.”
During his message, Candace’s mind traveled back to all the times she wanted to be loved by her family, excluding Zach because he did love her. Her mind wondered about the men who had been in and out of her life. The Pastor was right; she had been looking for love in all the wrong places. Unable to stop the flow of tears, she realized the reasons why her life was in such chaos.
Loud shouts of “Amens” startled her, and brought her back from her reverie. At the end of the message, Pastor Williams gave what Kaylan called “an invitation to salvation.” Before Kaylan could ask Candace if she wanted to accept Christ, Candace was already making her way down to the altar.
Yes, it truly had been a while since Candace first felt that love and acceptance from others. After the death of Derrick, it was hard for her to see that God really loved her. But as she walked into the church this dreadful afternoon, she decided that it was finally time to make a change.