You never can tell when God will stretch out His hand and touch the world. He sometimes does it in seemingly random ways, but nothing is random with God. On with the story...
"Oh no! I'm going to be late for my interview!" Alexandra said under her breath. The morning certainly seemed to be starting off badly. First, she overslept, and then she burned her breakfast because her cat, Cleopatra, was sick. And to top it off, her car wouldn't start! She must have left the lights on after coming home from her evening class the night before.
"This is just great. Now I have one more thing to pay for this week." Alex muttered, having given up on her car and beginning to walk. Although it was only September, the morning was chilly. It seemed that autumn was coming faster than expected.
Alexandra Handsill stood five feet eight inches, with dark brown hair that fell to the middle of her back in waves. She was called a beauty by her family and friends, and her almond-shaped green eyes were often filled with a dreamy look.
She was a fourth-year History student at the University of Ottawa, and had a co-op interview at the Civilization Museum that morning. The meeting was at ten thirty, and she was only half-way there at twenty after, so it looked like she was going to be late.
Mr. Louis Gerard, the assistant curator at the museum, looked down at his watch a third time. He was beginning to wonder what happened to Alexandra. When he had first met the pretty young student, she seemed to be very confident and organized.
"Maybe I was wrong about her...I certainly hope not. She would make a very good addition to the museum team. She really enjoys History, and she seems to know what she is talking about."
Alexandra ran up the stairs of the museum and in the doors. Trying to collect herself, Alex took a few deep breaths before approaching the assistant curator's office. She opened the door.
"I am so sorry, Mr. Gerard. My car wouldn't start and I practically ran here..." she trailed off, sure that he didn't want to hear her excuses. Alex was hoping that his good opinion of her wasn't already lost.
"Alexandra, please sit down. You are only ten minutes late. I understand that things like this happen." The assistant curator said with an understanding smile, gesturing towards an empty chair. "Let us begin our interview."
Forty-five minutes later, Alex shook hands with Mr. Gerard and left his office. "Yes, I got it!" Alex said, smiling, as she wandered through the Civilization Museum.
As a child growing up in Ottawa, Alexandra Handsill thirsted for knowledge and had a unique love of History. While other children were playing hockey, reading comics or playing with dolls, Alex was reading books about war and historical figures, and spending entire days at the museum or in front of the war monuments. She wrote poems and stories about the wars as if she had actually been there. Alex enjoyed visiting the war veterans who lived on her street, hungry for knowledge and curious about everything the veterans had experienced during the wars.
As Alex walked through the museum, she felt very content. Distracted by the richness of history, she bumped into someone and fell. Looking up from the ground, she saw that she had run into a young man. He looked at her for a moment, and extended a hand to help her up.
He pulled her to her feet, and then spoke. "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
Alex looked at the boy for a few seconds, and then replied, "I think I'm in a couple of the same classes as you are. The Honours Early Modern Europe class is one, right?"
"Yes. That's where I know you from. You're Alexandra Handsill, aren't you?" he said, a look of realisation on his face. "You have the highest GPA in the entire History department!"
Alex blushed. "Thank you. But if you are who I think you are, yours isn't very far behind. Are you Andrew Martin, by any chance?" she asked.
"Yep. I usually sit a couple rows behind you in class." Andrew answered, smiling.
"I see. So before I ran into you, what were you doing here?" Alex asked.
"I was heading for the war gallery, actually. You?"
"Well, I was just admiring the artwork. All these paintings have a story behind them, and sometimes I imagine what they are. For example, this knight here—the one sitting on his horse with a drawn sword was going into battle for his King and country. His wife and children were sitting at home awaiting his safe return. He had his wife's handkerchief in his armour for strength, tucked next to his heart." Alex poured out, her eyes getting a dreamy look in them.
Andrew listened to Alex's story in admiration. The truth was that Andrew had admired Alexandra since the day he first saw her in his Early Modern Europe course. She was beautiful and smart, and her imagination was rivalled by none he knew.
"So, care to take a walk with me down to the War Gallery?" he asked, hoping that she would say yes.
"I'd love to. The War Gallery is one of my favourite places in the Museum. I used to talk to all the veterans who lived on my street about their lives and about the war when I was a little girl. War fascinates me. The way people who would never talk to each other normally will band together when it is for the sake of their country is amazing. I can imagine that I was actually there sometimes. Sometimes I'm a nurse, caring for the sick and desperate, and other days, I'm a lover left at home waiting for my dearest one to return to me." Alex gushed, the dreamy look returning to her eyes.
"Wow, I never knew that someone could get so into history. You amaze me, you know." Andrew said admiringly.
Alexandra looked over at Andrew as they headed for the War Gallery and blushed at his comment. To be thought of as amazing was not something Alex was used to. She smiled at Andrew.
Andrew Martin was a tall boy, with messy brown hair and hazel eyes. His crooked smile gave him a mocking look which had annoyed teachers when he was in high school. He was a very hard worker though, and his grades reflected it.
Andrew was also a fourth-year student at the University of Ottawa. He studied many of the same classes that Alex did, such as Early Modern Europe and Viking History and Runes. His GPA was second only to Alexandra's in the entire department.
Walking into the War Gallery, Alex stopped and looked around. She fairly breathed History, and this room was so rich in it. As Andrew looked on in curiosity, Alex wandered the room, talking to herself and taking everything in. She paused in front of the plaque commemorating the men lost in the World Wars. She then sat on the bench in front of the plaque and placed her head in her hands. Alarmed, Andrew approached to ask what the matter was, but he paused when he realised that Alex was praying.
"I ask You to keep their souls and the souls of their families. Even though it was a long time ago, I pray that You help their families to cope through the pain of losing their loved ones so long ago. I pray that any grudges that are being held against the Germans and their allies are lifted, and love once again enters into the hearts of the hurt. Thank You so much for Your blessings and I pray for peace some day. In You Holy Name, Amen." Alex finished her prayer, and then lifted her head. She jumped when she saw Andrew standing so close.
"I always pray for the souls of the lost. I know it seems weird, but I like to make sure they are remembered by someone on Earth." Alex said in explanation to her actions.
"I see. I think it's really cool, actually. I don't pray anymore. I used to go to the Youth Group in my town when I was in High School, but when I moved here...when stuff went wrong, it never seemed like God was there to help me, so I kind of gave up." Andrew told Alexandra. He was ashamed to tell her this. She seemed to have it all together. Her grades, her faith...everything seemed to be so easy for her.
"That happens to a lot of people, you know. They have a problem in their lives and because God doesn't immediately fix it, they think that He isn't there. Or when you experience a horrible tragedy and you feel like the pain will never go away. You pray to God to help you, but it seems like He isn't listening. I used to be like that too, you know. When I was eleven, I had a lot of problems at home. My dad started getting really abusive and I prayed every day that God would do something to help me and my mom and J--... and I asked all my friends and the Pastor of my church to pray for me. Then something terrible happened..." Alexandra trailed off, remembering the most painful moment of her childhood. "The police had to be called, but by the time they got to our house, my father was gone. I felt hurt for so long, but then God showed me what He could do. He transformed my life and the tragedy into a blessing. Out of that experience, I have grown so much stronger than I could have ever been if I had lived a 'normal' life. I have learned the nature of true love and sacrifice, and I have learned that if I stay strong in Him, I will never fail. God works in mysterious ways." Alex explained to a shocked Andrew.
"I never expected you to have had any problems in your life. You certainly can't tell by looking at you. I guess that's my problem. I feel envious of people when I see their happiness. It seemed that everything must have come easily to you because of the way you look, and act. I guess I was very mistaken." Andrew replied, feeling kind of foolish. He wanted to know what the tragedy was that had changed Alex's childhood, but it wasn't his business. And whose name had she begun to say?
Looking at this girl standing in front of him, Andrew realised that her eyes told more of the story than anything else. They told of her pain being overcome and the strength she found through God. They told of this great power that her relationship with God had given her. But her eyes held something else too. There was the pain caused by whatever tragedy she had spoken of.
"I want to be close to Him again. I really do. I just don't know what to say, or what to do. I guess I thought that because I turned away from Him, God would have forgotten about me too." Andrew told Alex, looking out the large western window.
"God will never leave you, no matter what you do. I read something in a book once that said, 'I could no more abandon you than I could abandon myself.' If that doesn't make you see that He can't leave you, nothing will. Even if you strike down His name or haven't talked to Him in years, He still has His eye on you. Everyone on Earth has a God-given purpose, and we can't leave this planet until we fulfill it. He has a great plan for you, and for everyone. Did that help at all, Andrew?" Alexandra explained. She felt so empowered in God when she talked about Him to other people. It was hard to keep her faith in a world that tried so hard to push Him away, but she had Him by her side for strength.
Andrew Martin had never heard God explained that way before. It was like he was discovering Him for the first time. Knowing that God never forgot him, even when Andrew was doing other things, was amazing. It made him feel very insignificant, but in a good way. The fact that God cared enough about him to watch over him even when it was one-sided was evidence of His great love. Andrew had never felt this kind of love before.
"Thank you, Alexandra. I never expected this kind of day when I woke up this morning. It makes me want to start over. Now I think I understand how you can keep your head in the chaos of school and life and everything else. Having God with you is very reassuring." He said, beaming at Alex. If someone would have told him this morning that his life was going to change drastically, Andrew would have laughed. But now...his whole perspective on life was different. He felt warm and safe, a feeling he hadn't had in a long time.
Alexandra Handsill felt fulfilled. She felt that helping Andrew was the purpose for her day. God most certainly worked in odd ways, and through the most unexpected people. For some reason, she felt a connection to Andrew Martin even though she had never spoken to him before. Was this God telling her something? Maybe Andrew was the guy God had set aside for her? As soon as she thought this, she immediately put the silly thought out of her mind. 'That's ridiculous. Just because he loves God and you think he's cute, suddenly you think he's the One.'
Alex gave Andrew a sideways glance and met his eye. She smiled and then turned back to the art in the room.
Andrew opened his mouth, and then closed it again. Then, gathering courage, he stopped walking and spoke. "Alex, would you—would you like to have dinner with me on Friday?" He blurted out, blushing.
Alexandra stopped in her tracks. Had she not just been thinking about this? "I'd love to, Andrew." She replied, smiling broadly.
"Awesome. I'll pick you up at seven o'clock. I have the perfect place in mind. Do you like the Olive Garden?"
"I've actually never eaten there, but I've heard that it is really good. I'd love to go there." Alexandra replied. She glanced up and saw that Andrew's face was half illuminated by the sun. It looked quite funny, and she laughed. Her laugh was melodic and light, and her eyes shone when she laughed.
Andrew wondered about Alexandra. She had gone through so much as a child, and yet she was so strong. She drew her strength from God and look where it got her. Highest GPA, beautiful, creative. She was definitely following His guidance. He longed to be like that. He wanted to be close to God, but it seemed so difficult to stay on track. He always seemed to be tripping up and stumbling. But here was this girl who had offered him guidance on how to reconnect. God had used His humble servant to bring Andrew back to Him. He felt a rush of peace come over him as he realised how God had reached out a hand to help him. 'Thank you, God. You have sent this girl to help me, and she has. I had fallen away from You, but You redeemed me. I will follow You where I am supposed to, wherever You lead me.' Andrew prayed silently.
Alex had continued on along the War Gallery, and pausing to say something to Andrew, she realised that he had stopped a while back. His eyes were closed and his face was upturned towards the sun shining through the window. Alex smiled and silently thanked God for giving her the strength to help Andrew.
The week was quickly coming to a close. Alexandra had replaced the battery in her car so she didn't have to walk to school in the wind. She had also started her Co-op position at the Museum, and was enjoying every moment of her work. She was working with the Artefact Restoration team on a Ming Dynasty vase. It was an exquisite piece of work, and had been recently discovered by one of the museum archaeologists in China. After it had been cleaned carefully, the colours painted on the vase were bright and vivid. It was like nothing Alex had seen before. The workmanship, the effort put into something like this was amazing. It had been delicately painted to depict a cherry tree with colourful dragons circling overhead.
After she had finished for the day on Friday, Alex drove home and began getting ready to go out for dinner with Andrew. She took a long shower and picked out her outfit. She had decided to wear her white linen skirt with an emerald green blouse which brought out the colour in her eyes. Alex towel dried her hair and then put mousse and curling cream into it to accentuate the natural waves. With a quick look in the mirror, she went to the living room and sat down with a book.
She didn't have long to wait for Andrew. He showed up promptly at seven, just as he had said. He was dressed nicely, in khakis and a white button down shirt. He had a casual blazer over it, and it tied the whole look together. Alex had to admit that Andrew looked handsome.
"Shall we go?" he asked, stepping in and taking in her beauty. He noticed that she wasn't wearing any makeup, and it made her look even more beautiful. He had never liked it when girls painted their faces up like dolls. If your skin had blemishes, it should be treated, but not covered up by layers of chemicals. After all, wasn't covering up how you looked naturally an insult to God? He made everyone the way they were for a reason. Whether you fit the media image of beauty wasn't important. Serving God and doing what He asked of you was.
Alex followed Andrew out of the apartment and locked her door. She placed her keys in her bag, and they walked down the steps and over to Andrew's car. He opened the door for Alex and then walked over to the driver's side and got in.
As they drove through the streets of Ottawa, neither spoke. A shy silence seemed to hang in the air between them. Even at the respective ages of twenty-one and twenty-three, they both felt like teenagers going out on a first date.
The restaurant came into view, and Andrew slowed down to pull into the parking lot. As it was past the usual dinner hour, the small parking lot of the Olive Garden was not full, and he easily found a spot. As Andrew shut off the engine, Alex turned to him and spoke. "Thank you for asking me. I really don't go out much, and I appreciate it." She said, smiling.
They got out of the car and walked into the restaurant. "I have reservations for two, under Martin."
"Right this way, sir." The host ushered them to a small table near the back wall. After they were seated, a waiter appeared and handed them menus and a wine list. Andrew politely set the wine list aside and picked up a menu. He didn't drink, and Alex's nod confirmed that she didn't either.
After she perused the menu for a few minutes, Alex chose the Asparagus and Ricotta Capaletti. Andrew picked the Fettuccini Alfredo with broccoli. When the waiter returned, they gave their orders. Also, both ordered iced teas to accompany their meals.
"You made a good choice. The Fettuccini Alfredo is a classic. And personally, broccoli is the best veggie ever invented by God." Alex said, grinning.
Andrew smiled at this comment. It was true though. Broccoli was pretty good. "You didn't make too bad of a choice yourself. The Capaletti here is phenomenal. Best I've ever had. So, onto another subject. What do you want to do after you finish school?"
"I've thought about going to Europe to be an Historian. Or I would love to work in a museum over there. I'm English, and I have always wanted to explore my culture a bit more. I do love tea." Alex responded. "However, I won't drink it like the English. I like my teeth the way they are--clean and healthy."
As they both sipped on their iced teas which the waiter had brought a few minutes before, they were quiet and appreciative of each other.
A short while later, the waiter brought out their food. The smell of the pasta was mouth watering. Andrew and Alexandra dug in, savouring each bite. The sound of chewing and the clink of cutlery on their dishes was all that could be heard for several minutes, then Andrew spoke again.
"I really want to teach European History to high school kids. I have always loved it, and I feel that it's my calling. I do really enjoy travelling, though. My parents took me abroad for a summer a few years ago, and ever since, I have just wanted to travel everywhere."
Alex had just opened her mouth to say something when her cell phone rang. She picked it up. "Hello? Yes, speaking...what? Okay—I'll be right there. Thank you. Bye." Alex hung up with a stricken look on her face. "My mother...she was just in a front-end crash. They don't know if she'll make it through the night..." she said, her eyes beginning to overflow.
Andrew got up from the table and crossed to Alex's side. He helped her out of the seat. He beckoned the waiter and gave him enough money to cover the meal, then gently guided Alexandra towards the door.
On the way to the hospital, neither spoke. Alex was hunched in her seat, praying through her tears for mercy on her mother, and Andrew was deeply grieved, not knowing what to do to comfort her. As they reached the hospital, Alex sat up and wiped her eyes. With white lips pressed firmly together, she walked in and to the reception desk.
"I would like to see Mrs. Maria Handsill, please." She told the nurse, her body shaking.
"Are you family?" the nurse inquired, looking at Alex.
"I'm her daughter. May I see her please?" Alex replied, her voice breaking. She turned away to take a deep breath, then turned back to the nurse.
The nurse checked a page, then spoke. "She is in room 410, Third floor. You may go up." She didn't object when Andrew went with Alex, as she could see that this girl was in distress.
Andrew led Alex to the elevator and they travelled up to the Third floor. At the door of room 410, Andrew stopped, allowing Alex to go in. It wasn't his place, unless Alex asked him to come in. After a few minutes, the door opened and Alex came out. She looked at Andrew and collapsed into his arms, sobbing.
A nurse came out of the room. Andrew asked what had happened. "The daughter arrived not a moment too soon. The patient just passed away from her injuries." She whispered with a sad expression. Then she turned and continued down the hall.
For what seemed like hours, Andrew held Alex's limp form in his arms. Alex finally lifted her head and attempted a small smile for Andrew. "Thank you for driving me here. I'm sorry I just collapsed in your arms like that." She managed to speak quietly, her voice unsteady.
"No, it's not a problem. Would you like me to drive you home?" he replied softly, his voice sympathetic. Alex had just lost her mother. Although he could never know the pain she was in, Andrew felt some pain for her. He knew that God had a reason for taking this beautiful girl's mother, but he still couldn't understand the reasoning behind it. 'I'll trust that you have a plan to make a miracle out of this tragedy.' He said to God in his head.
After Andrew dropped her off and made sure that she was comfortable, Alex curled up in her bed and she cried herself to sleep. Her mother had been her best friend. And now she was gone. She felt angry with God, but only for a moment. She knew there was a reason, but she asked Him, 'Why my mother? Please tell me how this will turn out for the best, because I don't understand.'
Alex awoke late the next morning, and for a moment she didn't remember the events of the night before. As it all came rushing back, she felt a sharp pain in her chest and the tears flowed freely once more. She wasn't sure how she could bear it. Life without her mother seemed dull and lonely. But then she remembered Andrew. It wasn't his problem. He could have gone home, but instead he had stayed by her side until he was sure that she was safely home. 'I'm grateful that there are people in this world who care about me. There is just one less now.'
Alex remembered a comforting Bible verse found in Psalms. Psalms 23:4 was always a favourite of hers as a small child. Whenever she was in trouble or hurt, she recited it:
"Though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil, for You are with me."
Later, as Alex was sitting on the couch absently watching the news, she heard a knock on her door. She rose and opened the door to find Andrew standing on the step with coffee and bagels. She invited him in.
"I don't mean to intrude, but I brought you a coffee. I didn't know if you were hungry, so I got you a bagel too. How are you holding up?" Andrew asked, setting the food on the table and handing Alex her coffee.
Alex warmed her hands with the coffee and thanked Andrew for his kindness. "You really didn't have to do all this, you know, but I really appreciate it." She said gratefully.
"I came here to ask if you wanted to pray together. You know, for healing and rest...if that's alright." Andrew said. He wanted to help somehow, and he didn't really know what else to do.
Alexandra, although in great distress and emotional pain, was grateful for Andrew. He was trying so hard to help in any way he could. "Thank you. That sounds like it would be very nice." Alex told Andrew, giving him a weak smile. "We can sit here at the table and pray."
They both sat down and, with bowed heads, began to pray. Andrew began. "Dear God, I pray that in this difficult time for Alexandra You give her strength to go on. I pray that You have taken her mother's spirit into Your arms as Your daughter, and that she is at peace. Please help us commit ourselves to serving You, even in the hard times when we feel like we can't bear it. Please give Alex peace in her heart, and reveal to her your purpose for her life. In Your Holy Name, Amen." He finished. He opened his eyes for a moment to see Alex smile at him, then closed them once more and listened to Alex's prayer for peace and rest in her life. She also prayed for support and strength through her time of mourning, and thanked God for sending people to help her. As she finished, she and Andrew both lifted their heads and exchanged small smiles.
Alex was so thankful for Andrew's presence in her life. He was helping as best he could. Already, she felt a little less broken. She would just have to let God heal her heart piece by piece. Even though she had lost her mother, she would never cease to fight for God. "Thank you, Andrew. You don't know how much it means to me that you've stayed to help. We only met this week, but you are acting like we've been friends for years. I really appreciate your kindness." She said.
Andrew placed his hand over hers and squeezed it. "You helped me realise how important it is to have God in my life. I am thankful that you are my friend." He released her hand and got up from the table. "I guess I should probably go. I have an appointment in half an hour and I| should be there early."
"Andrew, would you go to her funeral. We didn't have many relatives out here, and I would appreciate the support. It's the day after tomorrow at Freedom Funeral Chapel. At one o'clock." Alexandra told him as he was headed out the door.
Andrew nodded and agreed to be there. He said goodbye and left, closing the door behind him. There must be something he could do.
The day of the funeral, Alexandra woke up reluctantly. She did not want to bury her mother today, or ever. It was very hard for her to get ready that morning. Alex washed her hair and braided it into a single plait down her back. After donning the simple black dress she had chosen, Alex grabbed her jacket and left for the funeral home.
When she arrived at the funeral home, Andrew was there, waiting for her. He squeezed her hand and led her inside.
After the service, the casket was lifted into the hearse by the pallbearers, and the short row of cars left for the Union Cemetery across town.
Sitting in the black car on the way to the cemetery, Alexandra thought back to a day many years ago. This was not the first time she had been to Union Cemetery.
It had happened on a clear, sunny day ten years ago. Alex's father was yelling again, irritated by the messiness of her bedroom. The eleven year-old shrank back to the wall beside the stairs in fear. As her father brought back his hand to strike her, Jacob stepped in. He was her fifteen-year old brother. As he stepped in front of Alex, their father's hand came down and hit Jacob, putting him off balance. As Jacob teetered on the edge of the stairs, he grabbed for the handrail to stop his fall, but his hand couldn't find it. It seemed as if he fell in slow motion. Jacob tumbled down the stairs, over and over, until he reached the bottom and stopped. He was lying motionless on the floor. Alex looked on as her father went down the stairs. Why was Jacob's head at that angle? When the truth hit her, she sat down and started to cry. She knew that he was dead, because he had tried to save her.
Alexandra snapped back to the present as the car came to a stop in front of the cemetery. Even in her sadness, Alex appreciated the beauty that God had created. There were flowering trees shading graves, and wild flowers growing near the fences.
Alex got out of the car and walked behind the pallbearers to the grave site. She felt Andrew slide in next to her as she stood looking into the dark ground that was going to be her mother's final resting place.
Andrew stepped next to Alex and followed her sad gaze to the hole that was her mother's grave. As he was looking, he saw another stone beside the grave. He read the inscription.
Beloved son and brother.
You will rest in God's embrace forever.
Andrew gasped. He died ten years ago. This must have been the tragedy that Alex had spoken of. Her brother died. And at fifteen years old too. He put a comforting arm around Alexandra's shoulders, and she gave him a small smile.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. You will be remembered. Now your spirit is with God, and with your son." The minister finished speaking and the crowd dispersed. Alex just stood in front of the grave, looking at the casket in the ground. She had placed a single white Narcissus on top. As she turned to go, Andrew put out his hand.
"It was Jacob, wasn't it? The tragedy that happened when you were eleven. I am so sorry." He offered.
"He was trying to protect me from my father. Then he fell and never got up. I lost my first friend that day, my only brother. And my father ran. He couldn't even face what he had done, so he just left. Andrew, now I don't have anyone. My mom was the last relative I had left on her side. I feel so alone." She explained, her shoulders hunched and eyes downcast.
"I'm here. I won't go anywhere. Don't worry, Alex. I'm here." He promised, folding her into a hug. Alex let her tears fall freely now. They had held back all day, but now they overflowed. She had lost her mother, but God had provided someone to help her through this time. She would get through this with the help of Andrew and God.