By Published On: August 11th, 20227670 words38.4 min read

Karl – September 17, 2010

Karl sped down the hill towards the church. Every day after school, Karl biked home on his 10 speed. The church his mom worked at, Hope Community Church, was the halfway point between Mackenzie Jr. High and the two-bedroom apartment they lived in across town. On Fridays, Karl would stop at the church and his mom, Sandy, would meet him outside with a bag of cookies leftover from youth group.

Karl pressed on the breaks as he neared the front door of the church. No Sandy in sight. Weird. Maybe she had an unexpected meeting today. Karl locked up at the bike rack and ventured into the church. Sandy served as the church secretary. She took the job when Karl’s dad, Shane, left five years ago. The flexible hours helped as she raised Karl alone.

The doors creaked as they closed behind Karl. He didn’t see his mom at her desk, so he walked down the hall towards the conference room. Usually, several staff members milled about the church when Karl visited. Today, the halls stood empty.

For a church, Hope Community felt casual. Pastor Jay had gone to Baptist seminary, but the church held no official tie to a formal denomination. Jay had started the church himself twenty years prior, his own home-grown faith community in the town of Northfield, Minnesota.

Karl poked his head into the conference room. No one.

Maybe she had already gone home? Karl retraced his steps past the staff offices to the other side of the sanctuary, towards Jay’s office.

As he approached Jay’s office, Karl crouched down low and hid behind a coat rack. Karl could see Jay sitting at his desk. Sandy sat across from him. Jay had a stern look on his face. Karl couldn’t hear the conversation, but he had a clear view of Jay and could see the back of his mother’s head. He watched his mother shrug her shoulders and lift her arms up in what looked like agitated surrender. A flash of rage switched through Jay’s face. He stood up and reached across his desk, held Sandy’s face, then slapped it.

Karl’s stomach flipped. He told himself to rush towards the office, but his instincts betrayed him. He crouched lower as a cold sizzle tore down his spine.

Jay sat back down and waved Sandy over to him. As she approached, he leaned back in his chair and grabbed Sandy by the wrist, pulling her onto him. He grabbed her butt and pawed at her legs.

Karl’s eyes went blurry. All his thoughts left as soon as they came. All he could feel was how his shoes were too tight and his ears didn’t seem to be working. He needed to get away. Slowly, he retraced his steps, got back on his bike, and rode home.

Sandy – September 17, 2010

Sandy pushed the apartment door open. “Karl, you here?”

A muffled “Yeah mom” traveled from Karl’s closed bedroom.

Sandy knocked on the door but Karl didn’t open.

“Did you stop by the church today?”


Relief swept through Sandy’s shoulders.

“That’s probably best anyways. There weren’t any leftover cookies from youth group this week.”

No answer from Karl.

“I’m going to order a pizza tonight and I’ll give you a knock when it’s here, okay?”


Normally, Sandy got offended by Karl’s unwillingness to speak with her, but today she took it as a blessing. The junior high years were good for something.

Today was the third time that Jay had groped her. She needed a plan. Her brain told her to call the crisis line and report Jay. But the anger in her insides pleaded with her to start plotting her revenge.

She picked up her cell and ordered a large pepperoni pizza.

Sandy sat down on her floral-patterned couch and picked up her journal. She read through the first few pages and chuckled at her initial entries. So mundane.

Went to the grocery store today. Tried to find this new sugary cereal Karl asked me for last week. Couldn’t find it and the guy stocking shelves gave me a funny look when I asked if they carried it.

My new shampoo seems to work better than the old stuff. Cheryl from the worship team gave me a nice compliment on my hair after rehearsal today.

Downloaded a new budget template today from a personal finance website. I think I’ll stick with my old spreadsheet though. Fun colors and fancy formulas won’t add any money to my bank account. I will give myself credit for how smoothly things run on this modest salary though. Hoping Karl can get a job next summer now that he’s a teenager. It would give him some walking around money, and hopefully more confidence.

Sandy flipped to the middle of the journal to read the more recent entries.

I have no words for what happened to me today. I pray to God this never happens again.

He smiled at me as he left early this afternoon. I smiled back and hated that I did. God I hate that I smiled back.

Again, no words. God, I hope you can put the pieces back together. I’m losing it, God. I really am this time.

Sandy snapped the book shut, grabbed a lighter, and slipped into her tennis shoes. She marched out of the apartment, lit her journal, and tossed it in the dumpster. She didn’t care if it started a fire. Her life felt like a dumpster fire anyways.

When she came back to her apartment, the pizza delivery man was knocking on her door. She paid him in cash from her “pizza money envelope” and tipped him 25%. Sandy always believed you should tip well, even when things were tight.

“Karl, the pizza is here!” she yelled as she closed the door and prayed that she could hold back her tears.

Karl – September 22, 2010

“There’s a bit of cake on his chin, this fat fuck,” said Oscar, pointing at Karl. Karl and the rest of the junior high youth group sat at white folding tables in the church basement. Oscar’s mother had baked cake this week instead of cookies.

“I bet you can’t wait to get at the leftovers this week, you fatty,” said Oscar. “Your mum can’t bake for shit. That’s why she’s swipin’ my mum’s bakin’ to take home to her little chub monkey.”

The whole table roared with laughter.
Karl put his fork down and hung his head.

“What’s the matter you little frosting whore?” questioned Oscar. He leaned in close and finger flicked Karl’s left ear.

Instantly, Karl reacted with a right-handed punch to Oscar’s chin. Karl didn’t know where it came from, but now he was on the floor, on top of Oscar, swinging wildly, his fists hitting and missing, alternately striking Oscar’s cheeks and the thin, gray carpet.

Jared, Hope Community’s youth pastor, rushed over and pulled Karl off Oscar.

Karl couldn’t stop his arms from swinging. He’d never felt this uncontrolled before. The rage ran through his torso and steamed up into his head. His elbow clocked Jared in the ear, knocking his glasses off.

Jared dragged Karl to the corner of the room and yelled, “Ruby, get down here. Your son is hurt!”

Ruby came rushing down and ran over to Oscar, who was just getting up. Tears streamed down Oscar’s face. He wiped blood from his nose and pointed at Karl. “You bastard!” he screamed. Ruby wiped Oscar’s face with a paper towel that one of the kids had handed her. She turned her head and glared at Karl. He didn’t notice. His eyes had gone cloudy. His head rocked back and forth.

Forty-five minutes later, Karl sat in Jared’s office. Jared and Sandy stood just outside the office, speaking quietly.

Having cooled down a bit, Karl started to feel some shame for his outburst. He didn’t feel bad for Oscar. Bully scum. But it wasn’t fair to Ruby or Jared. And especially not fair for his mom. Being the son of a church employee came with a higher level of expected behavior. He’d never had an outburst like this before and he didn’t want to jeopardize anything work-related for his mom. Karl knew they didn’t have a lot of money and that she needed the job. Obviously, Sandy hadn’t done anything wrong, but church people tended to judge the character of adults by the actions of their children. What was wrong at home? Shouldn’t she be keeping her boy in line? That type of behavior can’t be tolerated at youth group. Maybe she’s not disciplining him? Goes to show you need a father to lead a family.

Karl turned his head towards his mom. She gave him a quick glance and a nervous smile before resuming her concerned expression. Jared gave Karl a wave and continued whispering what could only be a long list of discipline options for Sandy to agree to. Earlier that evening, Jared had given a mini-sermon on discipline, the fifth such installment in a series titled, “Why Receiving Discipline With Joy Will Bring You More Freedom.” Jared preferred long names for his sermon series, and even longer sermon lengths—usually a full forty minutes, an eternity in youth group time. He didn’t believe youth group should only be a fun place for kids to hang out. He took his job seriously. And expected the youth to take their Christian responsibilities seriously too.

Karl sat on his hands and wondered what his dad would think of the fight. Even when Shane had been with them, he hadn’t been around much. Shane loved to gamble. Karl didn’t know a lot of the details surrounding his parents divorce, but he knew his dad’s penchant for betting played a major role in the separation. Maybe that was why they were poor. Punching Oscar was a bit of a gamble, albeit one with little to no consideration. Would it pay off? It all depended on what his mom and Jared agreed to for discipline, and if Oscar stopped messing with him. Karl liked to think his dad would have made the same bet.

On the way home, Sandy told Karl that he could take a break from youth group if he wanted.

“Am I suspended?”

“No, I just suggested to Jared that you might like a little time away after something like this.”

“Was Jared mad?”

“You know Jared. He gets riled up. I don’t think he ever fought anyone when he was a kid.”

“So, does he not want me back?”

“Oh, he wants you back. He wants you to clean the church kitchen for the next two months. But I told him we wouldn’t be doing any of that. I suggested the break. I don’t think I’m going to go to Sunday morning service for the next few weeks.”

The image of pastor Jay’s hand striking Sandy’s face flashed into Karl’s brain.

“Okay, yeah. I think I’ll take a few weeks off too.”

When they got home, Karl wrapped his mother in the biggest hug he could give her.

Sandy – September 23, 2010

Sandy arrived at Hope Community at 7:55 a.m. She worked 8:00 – 4:00 Monday through Friday, and Jay allowed her to duck out early on days when she had to come back for an evening event. Sundays were unpaid, but attendance was expected.

She sat down at her desk and opened her laptop. Nondenominational churches like Hope Community tended to obsess about being relevant to young people. This had its downsides— overly tight denim, references to superhero movies in sermons, sizable budget allocations for video game subscriptions. But the upside was the tech. All the staff had the latest laptops. And no one questioned if you used your computer for personal things.

Sandy logged on and opened a new document.

No church work today.

She started typing.

Dear God,

I feel that I need to address something with you. I am extremely confused, on the verge of heartbreak. I am in an impossible situation. And it feels like you do not care. I have trusted you, and nothing has changed. I trusted you while Shane wasted our savings on his addiction. You kept me sane through the divorce, but the money is still gone. You gave me this job at the church to keep us above water, but this job is the source of my current situation. For most of my life, I have viewed you as my protector. You are supposed to be the God who fights my battles. I am starting to doubt that you are fighting for me. I hate to write those words. They feel border-line heretical to me. But I am left without much else to think. Where are you? Why is a man like Jay allowed to lead this church?

In the church context that I have been raised in, we lean heavily on the grace and forgiveness of the New Testament. I know the kindness of Jesus. And have viewed him as an example. Who wouldn’t? Even many nonbelievers look up to the teachings of Jesus.

But I’m beginning to wonder if the teaching I have received has neglected to show the full force of your nature.

In the women’s Bible studies I attend, the stories of your wrath often discourage the other moms. Our study leader, Nicole, tries to calm their fears with silly little sayings. I have never paid any of it much mind. Those types of conversations always go in circles.

That said, maybe the stories of your anger shouldn’t be explained away over Thursday night coffee and cakes. We often default to coming up with ways to bury your rage in the deep past, but perhaps we have got it all wrong. Maybe your fury is just as relevant as ever. Could your vengeance even be something worth emulating?

Now I know. You are God. And I am not. Vengeance is mine sayeth you. But. I don’t see you taking any vengeance against Jay. And I know that you know what he did to me is wrong. Would it ever be right for vengeance to be mine? I know it’s a stretch. But I’m starting to feel like I don’t have a lot of other options right now.

Sandy shut her laptop and looked up to see Jay staring down at her.

“You’re really writing up a storm here on a Monday.” Jay smirked.

Sandy chuckled. “Lots of emails to reply to. A ton came in after yesterday’s service. The Claxtons are complaining about the drums again.”

“Too loud? I hope you’re telling them that First Lutheran is just down the road.”

“I thought you told me not to taunt them. Their tithes are too essential, right?”

“Sandy!” Jay admonished her. “Shhhh.” But he smiled as he said it.

Karl – September 24, 2010

Karl stared at the farmer’s pistol resting in its holster. He and the rest of the hundred or so 8th grade students of Rosemary Jr. High School were on a field trip to Mustard Mansion Farms. No mustard seeds in sight. Only pig shit, pig nostrils, and the gleam of Farmer Barry’s right to carry. Mr. Barry’s voice carried across the barn. Karl stood in front, not five feet from the firearm. Pastor Jay, who was serving as a parent chaperone for the field trip, shifted his body weight from one foot to the other fifteen feet to Karl’s right.

Coward, you’re a coward.

Intrusive thought number 17 today.

Karl counted his intrusive thoughts. He wasn’t sure if each time he counted an intrusive thought should count as an intrusive thought itself. He could always double the number if he decided that he should.

Rush Farmer Barry. Grab the gun. Shoot Pastor Jay.

18. Multiple actions. But it should still count as one thought.

Would his mom be happy with him if he killed Pastor Jay? She’d probably be horrified. And he’d have to reveal that he’d witnessed the incident without intervening. Then she would know he was a coward. Plus, Pastor Jay was his classmate Abby’s dad. Karl wasn’t crazy.

“Karl, Karl!” Pastor Jay hollered. “Hurry up, everybody’s headed to the next barn. If you keep standing there staring into space, we’ll leave you here with the rest of the pigs.”

Karl shot Jay a nasty look.

“Oh come on, Karl. I’m joking.” He flashed his signature grin. The same one he kept on his face during all his sermons. The same one he used while greeting his best tithers. The same one that took over his face each time he groped Sandy’s stiff, unwilling body.

“Yes sir,” said Karl.

Gawd, I hate myself.

That thought did not count. Karl knew it was true. And true thoughts don’t count.

Sandy – September 27, 2010

Sandy picked up the front desk phone.

“Hope Community Church, hello this is Sandy.”

“Hi Sandy, it’s Jay. Don’t you check the caller I.D.?”

“Sorry, didn’t look. What’s up?”

“I won’t be coming in today. Counseling sessions with the Merckle’s, Radisson’s, and JanesMarry’s this afternoon. All house calls.”

“Gotcha. I’ll keep the fort down over here.”

“Great. I love the sound of your voice, Sandy. You know that, right?”

“Sure, Jay.”

“No, really Sandy. You have such a respectful tone. I wish more people in this congregation spoke to me the way you do. I should do a sermon series on respect. It truly is the way the people of God ought to conduct themselves. I genuinely appreciate the way your tongue follows through on that responsibility.”

“Another caller coming in Jay. Thanks and good luck with your sessions this afternoon.”

“Alright well, take the compliment next time, Sandy. You deserve everything you get.”

“Bye, Jay.”

Eww. The man provoked a gutty disgust. Sandy kept herself from gagging.

Karl – September 27, 2010

Karl arrived home from school and opened the fridge. He took 9 slices of turkey from the package and dipped them directly into the mayo container. His mom hated this habit. But she wouldn’t be home for another hour. The mayo coated Karl’s mouth as he inhaled the sandwich meat. He pictured Oscar’s goofy grin and reached for another handful of turkey.

The lights were off and the blinds kept the sun from reaching the apartment kitchen. A glow emanated from the refrigerator as Karl emptied the package. He stood with the door open, searching for the next morsel to entertain. Maybe I am a fat fuck. Oscar is right, that idiot.

Karl let out a grunt and reached for the pickles. One, then two. Now a third. The fourth pickle he smeared with mustard. His mouth lusted for salt. He reached for the cupboard. Half a bag of potato chips vanished before Karl started to worry that his mom might ask where all the food went. He crumpled the top of the bag and stuffed it back into the cupboard.

As he backed away from the kitchen, Karl started to reconnect with his body.

First the shame.

Then the discomfort.


He’d done it again.

Sandy – September 28, 2010

Sandy exited out of her favorite porn. It was a “behind the scenes” shoot—one of her favorites. Normally, Sandy climaxed before the end of the video. Not today. Not doing it for her.

She navigated to the settings app on her smartphone and cleared her browser. Yes, her porn usage had gone up since getting her first smartphone. Her VHS and DVD days were over. When she first threw them out, she vowed to quit porn completely. Her resolution only lasted five days.

Sandy had been keeping her porn habit a secret for a long time. She’d never told Shane. She’d thought about mentioning it to one of her girlfriends, but all of them went to Hope Community. She imagined telling them. The rush of red that would fill their wholesome cheeks. The way that Nicole would change the topic immediately. The side glances and nervous laughter.

Sandy turned to her imagination. If she conjured up the right scene, it might be even better.

Oh, strange. It’s Jay. He’s wearing gray socks, white underwear. We’re in a walk-in freezer. He’s facing away from me. I can tell that he can’t hear or see me. As I walk towards him, a forearm comes into my view, handing me a strap on. I grab it and put it on. Jay cowers and I see his breath rise over his head. I tap him on the shoulder but he doesn’t turn around. I notice an icicle dangling from his left ear. I bend him over, taking care to rub his back in an attempt to warm him up. The warming up continues downward until my middle finger slips into his crevice. Now I’m jabbing it back and forth. Back and forth. Jay remains silent. He finally turns his head when I take the strap on and put it inside him. I see him recognize me. A tear forms in his eye, then freezes. “Are you cold, Jay?” I ask him. Back and forth. I’m stronger than he is. I’m inside him, ripping. I slap his buttocks. I pound on his back. Now I’m clasping at his ears. They’re bleeding. The icicle is gone.

Sandy gasped and shook. And grunted out a little laugh.

Dripping in sweat, she walked to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of cold water. Normally, this was when the guilt would set in. But not today.

Karl – September 29, 2010

On most days, Karl dreaded P.E. class. He hated getting sweaty in the middle of the school day, and his awkward frame didn’t lend itself to athletic excellence. Fortunately, today was not like most days. Today, the assigned activity was dodgeball. Karl was not sure why, but for some reason, he was good at dodgeball.

The game started and Karl’s fellow classmates began to eagerly chuck the rubber balls at one another. Karl stayed back and let the initial two thirds of competitors kill each other off. As the crowd thinned, Karl sharpened his senses and evaded each and every throw.

When it came down to the final two, only Oscar and Karl remained.

Oscar charged the center line and let two balls fly towards Karl’s head, yelling, “Take that you freak!”

Duck and slide. Karl’s sidestep kept him in.

He rushed the center line and faked.

Oscar dove.

Karl wound up and let the ball fly. It ricocheted off Oscar’s left sneaker and Karl had won. He nodded and gave Oscar a salute.

A victory like this was definitely worth the midday sweat.

Sandy – September 29, 2010

Getting divorced feels like a clean slate when you were hoping for a full itinerary. Sandy’s divorce had come as a relief when it happened. A clean slate meant finally getting off the roller coaster of financial ruin that comes with a lifelong commitment to a degenerate money pisser.

Sandy sat, pants fully up, on the toilet in the women’s restroom at church. She couldn’t stop crying. She hoped no one had noticed when she snuck away from her desk. How long had it been? She didn’t know. Since the divorce, she often thought about calling Shane. When she was at a loss for how to help Karl with his OCD, she thought about calling Shane. Her instinct had been to call Shane the first time Jay had violated her. Even once when she didn’t think she was going to make rent, she had picked up the phone and started punching in Shane’s number. But she didn’t press the call button. It was best that she hadn’t, wouldn’t. That’s what she told herself, what she believed.

Sometimes, your imagination could fool you. You could conceive of a world where Shane wasn’t pissing money away anymore. A world where he’d cleaned up his life. She would conjure up an image of Shane sitting in a park, his phone in his hand, considering calling her. What if they had both done it at the same time—staring at the numbers displayed on the phone’s glass screen? Their reflections showing only themselves, hiding the person on the other side of pressing the green call button.

Sometimes, you felt like you made a terrible mistake. How could you not? Even when, on paper, it all made sense. Like a math equation. An addiction stole your marriage. Your union wasn’t sustainable from a financial or relational standpoint. Do the math. Sandy had. And she lived with the answer.

Mostly, she knew leaving Shane was the right choice for Karl. Of course it wasn’t right for a child not to know their father. But Karl wouldn’t have known Shane anyways. Shane was never there. Better to show Karl that the healthiest thing you can do is move on for yourself, for those that you care about. Sandy hoped this was true. That’s the funny thing about knowing. It mostly feels like hoping.

Sandy stood up and flushed the toilet, out of habit.

Jessie – October 1

Jessie drove down a narrow path towards a small cabin on Lake Ortega. The cabin belonged to pastor Jay and his wife, Liz. This was Jessie’s fifth time out at the cabin. Her third time alone. Her husband, Jared The Youth Pastor, was leading a Hope Community men’s retreat at a campground on the other side of the lake for the weekend. Jay was sitting this retreat out. He had positioned this as an opportunity for Jared to take on more responsibility in leading the congregation. Feeling overwhelmingly honored, Jared had jumped at the proposition.

Jay’s pickup truck was already parked outside. A flurry of excitement ran through her stomach as she pulled up to the side of the cabin and parked.

Jared and Jessie had been married for 8 years. They tied the knot soon after finishing college, and Jared had taken on the youth pastor position at Hope Community a few months after their honeymoon.

The old screen door creaked as Jessie opened it and stepped into the cabin. Jay left the frying pan where he was preparing dinner and walked over to embrace Jessie.

He leaned over and started to kiss her neck as he wrapped her in his arms.

A bead of sweat dripped off Jessie’s back as she steadied herself from the impact of Jay’s embrace.

She returned his kisses, starting at his chest, then moving to his neck.

Jessie bit his earlobe. Softly. Then harder.

Jay’s dark eyes intensified.

Their lips met.

Jessie sensed the craving in Jay’s mouth.

Her own lust ran through her calves, up her glutes, condensating at her back.

She pressed into him even more.

Her hands pawed at his back, his butt.

Jay lifted her up and fell back onto the small cabin couch.

The eggs and peppers that Jay had been preparing sizzled on the skillet.

Jessie removed her sundress. She unbuttoned Jay’s shirt, then his pants.

Their aggression turned low and slow as they attended to each other’s aching bodies.

Liz was never this unbridled. Jared could never reach this level of passion.

As Jay entered her, Jessie remembered sitting on this very couch with Liz. They had gossipped about the women’s group’s debate over which day to move Bible study to. Cassidy wanted to move it from Wednesday to Thursday. Nicole wanted to move it to Tuesday.

Fuck Cassidy and Nicole. Screw Bible study and screw Liz. Nothing was better than reclaiming a piece of furniture where you had been bored to death. Nothing was better than riding Jay until her legs shook and her head fell back. Until they both screamed out that sweet final breath.

The eggs were burnt.

But neither Jessie nor Jay could smell them.

A cocoon of bliss kept all outside sensory at bay.

Inside, it was only them. Fully entwined.

Being a pastor, or a pastor’s wife, is stressful.

The expectations are unrealistic.

The rules don’t add up.

And in a life like that, you have to sneak away for a few moments of freedom.

A few moments where you can be human.

Be yourself.

Otherwise, you go insane.

This wasn’t Jessie’s first time cheating. She cheated on Jared while they were engaged.

Jessie and Jared first met during their sophomore year in college at a coed bible study that one of the Christian clubs on campus held on Thursdays. One of the families from a local church was visiting the bible study to share their adoption journey. They tied their personal story back to the story of God adopting sinful humans. At the end of their talk, they asked if anyone in the room had vision for adopting someday. Only Jessie and Jared raised their hands. They exchanged shy glances and giggled while the guest speakers made it awkward by suggesting they should meet up after the bible study.

By junior year, they were dating.

By fall of senior year, they were engaged.

They were waiting for marriage to have sex. More than that, they were trying not to have any sexual contact beyond kissing—trying being the key word. If you didn’t count hands down pants or dry humping, they were perfectly pure. The sexual tension during their engagement drove them to argue a lot. It was stressful to finish college, plan a wedding, and try not to fuck the person you loved all at the same time. They tried to keep Jesus number one through it all. Whatever that meant. Jesus sat buried below piles of homework and empty energy drink cans.

One night, Jessie went out to one of the college bars with some of her girlfriends to blow off some steam. She didn’t usually go out. A lot of the people in their Christian circle looked down at going to bars. Jessie tried to only have a couple drinks when she did go out. So she wouldn’t be in sin. In the world but not of it and all that. This night started out like any other. Jessie settled in at the table, conversing with her friends. They ordered a few rounds of vodka sodas and talked about their post-grad plans. Usually, they stayed at their back table and barely glanced at the dance floor. But tonight one of Jessie’s close friends, Corinne, kept nagging everyone to join her dancing. Her persuasion eventually worked. Mostly because she bribed the group with a round of drinks on her.

After a song or two, Jessie started to feel more buzzed than she probably was. The vodka sodas provided a solid foundation. And the drunkenness of the other people on the dance floor combined with the music made the atmosphere thick with lightness and warmth. After a few more songs, her friends started to leave the dance floor, having paid their debt to Corinne. Corinne and Jessie stayed on until Corinne went back to the table to check on everyone a few songs later.

Jessie danced alone for a bit until he approached her. His name was Lewis. And he’d been noticing her all night. The way an attractive man notices girls. No desperation or creepiness. Only appreciation for the similarly beautiful being existing nearby.

Did she want to dance?

Of course she wanted to dance. And of course she wasn’t supposed to. Shouldn’t. But something about the lightness and warmth made the moment feel pure. Something about the juxtaposition between the pressure she had been feeling in her personal life and the airiness of Lewis’ request made saying yes to him easier than she would have guessed.

Two more songs in, Jessie and Lewis were glued to one another. She started to worry that Corinne would come back to the dance floor and see her dancing with this man. So when he asked her if she wanted to get out of there, she quickly said yes. Who was she? How had she transformed from the conservative woman who had entered the bar into this exciting version of herself that was now leaving so eagerly with a stranger? Maybe it wasn’t a transformation.

Lewis lived close by. He brought Jessie to his apartment and made love to her. She didn’t tell him about her inexperience and he didn’t seem to care. He was loving and gentle and dreamy.

People had been warning Jessie about sex her whole life. Her parents, pastors, and girlfriends fretted their way through the topic. They convinced her that if she ever experienced it outside of marriage, it would be nasty, brutish, and dull—a trauma. Her experience with Lewis didn’t add up to any of the horror her family and friends had predicted.

The next morning as she left Lewis’ apartment, she only felt a fraction of the shame that she had expected. She texted her friends that she had slipped out early to get back to Jared. Since she had driven to the bar by herself, no one suspected a thing. She had told Jared she was spending the night at Corinne’s and he was none the wiser. Jessie and Jared didn’t live together anyways (of course they didn’t), so it wasn’t like he was waiting for her to come home.

Two years into their marriage, Jared found out. Jessie let her secret slip during an argument.

Liz and Jay guided them through it, and everybody made sure that nobody else found out.

Lying on the cabin couch, still wrapped in Jay’s arms, Jessie said, “Cheating makes sense to me. It made sense to me when I did it in college. And it makes sense now. I think I’ll cheat on Jared for the rest of my life.”

Jay tried to make a confessional joke.

But Jessie barely heard him. She was serious.

Jessie didn’t stay at the cabin overnight. She wasn’t sure if Jay would or not. He too got annoyed with Liz and often avoided her.

Once they had finally gotten off the couch, they realized the eggs were burnt. Jessie was starving, so she decided to head back into town.

She drove to one of the many local diners in Northfield. After she slid into a booth, she took out her phone and read a text from one of the bible study women. The woman was asking for advice about dealing with her anxiety. Did Jessie know any biblical resources to help her? Jessie did a quick online search for “bible verses for anxiety” and sent the woman the first link that popped up without reading the contents of the webpage.

Annoyed, Jessie surveyed the diner. Her waiter started to approach the table. Oh nice, he was cute.

In between bites of pancakes and french toast (yes both), Jessie snuck glances at the handsome waiter. She flirted with him whenever he came to check on her. And before she left, she tipped him 50% and wrote her number on the receipt. So adolescent of her, and risky too–given the small community. But totally worth it to Jessie.

Freedom is worth the shame. Especially when you find out that shame is mostly a lie.

And guilt?

Fuck guilt too.

Jared – October 1

Jared hung his towel on a hook and stepped into the open shower. He was alone. It was 10 p.m. The service had finished a half hour ago. Some of the guys were starting a bonfire. Others were already heading to bed. Jared picked a shower head towards the back of the room and hoped to God for hot water. He turned the knob and found the answer to his prayer.

After rinsing out the shampoo from his hair, Jared grabbed his bottle of conditioner (he was not a 2-in-1 kind of guy) and squirted the coconut scented product into his hand. That’s when he saw it. A rat nibbling at his towel across the room. Jared froze. His conditioner began seeping between his fingers, dripping onto the shower floor. The rat turned and looked at Jared. Jared screamed. Panic shot through his toes. The rat rushed him and he threw his bottle of conditioner at it. No luck. The rat scrambled around Jared’s feet, biting and whipping its tail. Jared spun around in circles, shouting and crying for help.

One of the guys from the bonfire, Steve, rushed into the bathroom building, yelling Jared’s name. When he came upon the scene in the shower, he rushed the rat and kicked it off of Jared’s feet. The rat scurried away, snatching Jared’s towel on its way out of the bathroom.

Hands on his knees, Jared took in a few deep breaths. After asking if he was OK, Steve doubled over in laughter. There he was, fully clothed, standing next to his naked pastor who was on the verge of pissing himself in panic. The laughter grew as another member of Hope Community, Roger, entered the shower, towel in hand. “Thought you might still be needing this,” said Roger as he tossed the towel in Jared’s direction. Jared mustered a thank you and covered himself. The rest of the guys from the bonfire rushed in and started asking what all the yelling was about. “Just a rat,” said Roger. “Looks like it tried to take a bite out of Jared’s dong. Stole his towel too. I had to snatch it from the cute little fella.”

Like Jesus escaping a rowdy crowd in Luke 4, Jared slipped through the guys and snuck back to his cabin as quickly as he could.

Jared hopped up to the top bunk, one of four in the cabin. He pulled the covers over himself, trying not to disturb the others in the cabin who were trying to fall asleep. They did not yet know about his episode with the rat, but he was sure they’d all hear about it at breakfast the next morning. He understood that it was hilarious for the guys to poke fun at him for freaking out. But he didn’t enjoy getting the negative attention. Tomorrow afternoon he had to give another sermon. He wanted to project strength and maturity when he spoke, but he knew everyone would have that image of him—naked jumping away from the rat—stuck in their heads, even if they hadn’t seen it themselves. The guys sleeping below him would probably have an even more ridiculous image in their heads since they would have to imagine the event for themselves.

Lying wide awake, Jared wished he could tell Jessie about the rat. She would laugh, but only a little. And her reassurance would help him laugh at the whole thing himself. She often helped him get over his insecurities. He considered texting her, but realized that his phone was across the cabin on the table. He’d tell her in person Sunday night when he returned home.

Jessie was proud of him for leading this men’s retreat. She lit up when he told her that Jay had given him the opportunity to run the annual event himself. Jay trusted him so much that he didn’t even think he needed to be there for support. Jared reminded himself that, overall, this weekend was going to be a success, even with the rat episode. The congregation knew he was the right man for the job. They knew he could make mature disciples and provide vision for men in the community who needed that extra push to lead their own families in the faith.

Working in a pastoral position provided little in the way of measurement for one’s own success. Jared often privately complained that he didn’t have a way to determine how he was performing in his own profession. He couldn’t use money as a measure. The salary was modest and didn’t have much potential to improve. He didn’t have a ladder to climb. There were only two pastors. He was second in command, firmly in last place. If he wanted to be the senior pastor, he’d have to branch off with his own church or wait until Jay died. Jared didn’t like either of those options. He’d never match Jay’s charisma enough to steal any of his flock. Plus Jay was only 46 years old—he worked out four times a week and maintained a tanned, toned physique. Jay wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Jared knew that pastors tended not to retire at the typical time. Most pastoral positions did not not come with good retirement plans. The job could be demanding at times, but any savvy pastor could delegate enough to keep his or her position well into their 70s, and therefore, keep their salary as long as they needed it. Volunteer labor abounded in the church. Pastors could divvy out the critical tasks while keeping enough control to warrant their full time position. Authority they called it. It belonged to them.

Even though Jared knew all this, he still fantasized about holding the lead pastor role. Maybe Jay would grow tired of his established church. Maybe he would set out on a new church plant mission. Maybe Jay would hand over the reins to the next best man for the job. One could hope. And Jared did. He pictured himself in that big corner office, calling in staff members for their mentorship sessions. He imagined himself in the pulpit, hands braced on either side, calling for the congregation to embrace a radical mission to serve in the way the disciples of the New Testament embraced their faith. He saw Jessie sitting in the front row, beaming. She would be so proud of her man. He would be a righteous example for all men in the community, a pillar of passionate faithfulness and a man of active ministry to the public.

Comforted by his leading man fantasy, Jared closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Sandy – October 4, 2010

Sitting at her desk Monday morning, Sandy admitted to herself that she wanted to kill Jay. She’d wanted to do so since the first time he touched her. Was murder overkill for what he’d done to her? Honestly, she wasn’t sure.

Sandy grabbed her purse from under the desk, walked up to the sanctuary balcony, and waited. Every Monday morning, Jay would go into the sanctuary and practice orating his sermon for the upcoming Sunday. Like clockwork, he would diligently refine his public exhortation in front of the unlit, unpopulated pews. Today was no different.

A large column rose through the middle of the balcony. Sandy sat in the pew behind it, out of view from the pulpit. After a few minutes of waiting, she heard Jay come through the doors and make his way to the stage. Sandy thought about the pistol Shane had left in their bedroom closet when he left. She imagined stuffing it in her purse and coming back to this hidden spot some Monday in the near future.

Sandy peaked around the column and watched as Jay looked through his notes. He started to give his opening remarks to the imaginary audience when someone joined him, coming from the stage right door. It was Jessie.

After his initial spook, Jay laughed and took Jessie into his embrace, kissing her as she wrapped her legs around his waist.

Stunned, Sandy watched as they began removing each others’ tops right there in the sanctuary. What kind of surprise seduction was this? Sandy shook in disbelief.

From the back of the main floor of the sanctuary came a voice. “Get off of her!” yelled Jared. Sandy hadn’t heard anyone else come into the sanctuary? Had Jared been hiding out there too?

Jared rushed the stage, gun in hand, screaming and cussing. As he approached the stage, he tripped over the first step and the gun went off.

By the time Jared stood up, Jay had already dashed past him, down the steps and towards the lobby.

Sandy started scrambling down the balcony steps when she heard another gunshot come from the lobby. She reached the aisle in front of the sanctuary doors and cracked them open to see Jay’s body bleeding out, staining the gray lobby carpet. Her son, Karl, stood over Jay’s body, his hands trembling as he struggled to hold onto the gun that his father had left in the bedroom closet all those years ago.

Inside the sanctuary, Jared cried out in agony over the lifeless body of his wife.

As Sandy rushed to pull her son away, she realized that he had witnessed Jay violate her. She didn’t know what to say, so she said this: “Jesus saves until he doesn’t. Sometimes, we have to get our own revenge. And that doesn’t mean God isn’t sovereign. It just means that he lets us in on his sovereignty. Pretty soon the police will be here. And they will execute their own idea of justice. But I know justice has already been served. Thank you, Karl.”