“It’s all right if you want to kiss Shay,” Sarah announced, coming over to stand next to us.

We broke into smiles. It was nice to know we had Sarah’s permission.

Drew took full advantage of it, lowering his lips to mine and leaving me with a kiss that would stay with me long after he was out the door.

Joe’s funeral took place on Wednesday and I was back in the church office Friday morning. It’d been an emotional time. I’d connected with Shay and the kids every day while I was gone. Our conversations were short, but exactly what I needed to see me through the loss of my mentor and friend. Joe left a legacy through me and the other pastors he’d mentored through the years. He would not be soon forgotten.

I’d been in the office less than an hour when Linda Kincaid paid me a visit. One look at her and I knew something was on her mind.

“Good morning, Linda,” I greeted. Mary Lou had alerted me to the fact that Linda had asked to be notified once I was back.

“Morning,” she said, crossing her arms and getting straight to the point. “I understand you had Shay stay with the children.”

“Yes. Is there a problem?” Not that it was any of her business if she thought so. I wasn’t looking to be confrontational, so I kept my opinions to myself.

“It probably wouldn’t have been a problem if Sarah hadn’t told half the church that Shay had moved in and was now living with you.”

“She said what?” I hadn’t heard about this.

“You heard me right. And let me tell you that news spread faster through the church than spilled milk on a marble floor.”

Although this wasn’t funny, I had the almost irrepressible urge to laugh. I could just imagine what people were thinking and, knowing human nature, how eager they were to think it.

Linda shook her head and sank into the chair across from my desk. “I did my best to quell the rumors.”

“I appreciate that,” I assured her, and I did, while at the same time finding it amusing. Leave it to my innocent nine-year-old daughter to misconstrue the facts and lead others down the path of speculation and gossip.

“This is nothing to laugh about, Drew.”

“Oh come now, Linda, you mean to say you don’t find this a little bit funny?” She was taking this far too seriously. I’d always known her to have a good sense of humor, if not a bit dry. She could take a joke as well as the next person, or so I thought.

“The thing is, Drew, you need to be more careful.”

“Careful?” We’d already had this conversation once. As far as I was concerned, Shay had more than proved herself. “What do you mean?”

Linda exhaled a deep breath. “Don’t you see? By asking Shay to stay with the children, you put yourself in a vulnerable position. I like Shay well enough, and you know I love Sarah and Mark like my own grandchildren and love you like a son. That said, I’m going to speak frankly.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” I said and gestured for her to continue. “I respect your opinion.”

“Everyone knows how you feel about Shay. You haven’t made any effort to hide your feelings. I’m happy for you, Drew. There’s been a real change in you since you’ve met Shay. You’re happier than you have been since we lost Katie.”

“Thank you. You’re right, I am happier and so are the children. Have you noticed the way Sarah clings to Shay? She’s made a world of difference in my daughter and in Mark, too.”

“I have seen the changes, and that’s why it pains me to say this.”

I gestured for her to continue. If there were issues I needed to resolve, I would face them head-on. I trusted Linda to be honest and direct with me.

I read the regret in her eyes and the serious look about her. Whatever had happened had my friend worried. I couldn’t believe Sarah’s innocent ramblings could have stirred up a hornet’s nest.

“You’re the spiritual leader of this church and the congregation looks to you to be their guide, both spiritually and morally.”

“Are you seriously asking about my physical relationship with Shay?” I asked, finding it almost humorous. I didn’t see how anyone could fault a few stolen kisses and misconstrue those kisses as falling down the slippery slope of sexual indiscretion.

“Heavens, no,” she returned, aghast. “It’s the impression, the implication that your involvement with Shay is improper for a man of your standing. She presents the near occasion of sin.”

“What?” I couldn’t help it, I laughed out loud. Near occasion of sin?

Linda’s cheeks burned a bright shade of red. “Drew, please, this is no laughing matter. The bottom line is that Shay isn’t the kind of woman any of us expected you to show an interest in, especially after Katie…”

The humor in me vanished. I took in a deep, calming breath, doing my best to remain composed. “That was below the belt.”

“Was it?” Linda asked.

“What do you expect from me?” I demanded, losing my cool.

“Not her.”

“Why?” I asked, genuinely surprised that we were even having this conversation. “Isn’t Shay Christian enough for you? If Christ was standing here this moment, do you have any idea what He would say, because I do. He’d look you straight in the eye and ask whomever among you was free from fault to throw the first stone.”

“I know what you’re saying, Drew—”

“I don’t think you do,” I said, cutting her off.

“I do, but there are others and they are disappointed in you. When Katie was alive—”

“Katie would have loved Shay. She would have thrown out the welcome mat and taken Shay under her wing.” To remain seated was impossible, and I rose to my feet and walked around to the front of my desk so that we could face each other eye to eye.

“Do you seriously believe Katie would want her children associating with Shay? Seriously, Drew.”

I did my best to put my personal feelings for Shay aside and look at this from Linda’s viewpoint. From what she was saying, she wasn’t the only concerned voice, either. When I first met Shay, well over a year ago now, I wouldn’t have introduced her to my children. At Shay’s graduation ceremony, I’d hesitated to include Mark and Sarah. The reason I’d brought them was because I’d made the mistake of mentioning it to Sarah and she’d been eager to go.

Searching for a response, I thought about Katie and how she would feel having Shay associate with our children, and in that moment, I had my answer. I knew my wife. I deeply admired the way Shay cared about others, her willingness to volunteer wherever needed. A sense of peace came over me and I relaxed.

“I believe Katie would be the first person to love Shay because she had the ability to look for the good in others. That’s something she taught me and, Linda, there’s so much good in Shay. It hurts me that you and others in the church don’t see it the same way I do.” And Sarah. My nine-year-old daughter had recognized it in Shay from the beginning. How like her mother my daughter was. Until that moment I hadn’t realized it.

“I do see the good in Shay,” Linda countered. “But I’m only one person. There are others who are blinded by the fact that she has a felony record and spent time in prison.”

“I feel sorry for them,” I whispered.

“Drew, do you think I wanted to have this conversation with you? I felt it was necessary because I’m afraid what will happen in the church if you continue your relationship with her.”

That gave me pause. I took in a deep breath and realized that if it came to choosing between my role as pastor at Seattle Calvary and having Shay as part of my life, then as painful as it would be, I’d choose Shay.

“I appreciate everything you’ve told me. I know it hasn’t been easy. But I’ll take my chances.” I trusted that in time my church family would come to love Shay the same way they had Katie.

Linda took a moment to absorb my words. “I know Shay is working hard to prove herself.”

“Perhaps too hard. In time the church will notice how much of herself she’s given to this congregation, all the volunteer hours she’s put in despite her work and school schedule.”

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