Gold of Ophir – A Christian Novel

Note: This is a draft version. Expect typos and missing words

CHAPTER 1

On the first Sunday evening in April 2014, I was lying on the lone couch in my living room, munching a yummy cake I’d just baked. I wouldn’t say life’s path was smooth, but it was a good road, much better than that of the average citizen.

At 28, I worked my dream job, had just enrolled in an online MBA program, and hoped to land a solid record deal soon to launch my music ministry. If the music stuff happened, that would be two of three prayers answered that year. There remained ample time for the third request to be answered. The most important of them all. I wanted to get married that year, for to make it to 30 still single had never crossed my mind as a possible reality for the beautiful, devoted Christian girl that I was.

Remembering that I’d switched off my phone in morning because I was afraid that my mother would call to ask for her monthly allowance, I got up and went into the bedroom to pick the phone from my bed.

Just as it finished booting, a message jumped in from an unknown number.

Betty, you are a mic goddess. Sorry if that sounds inappropriate, but that’s just how I can describe it. Listening to you today was like being ministered to by angels. Have you considered becoming a recording artist?

I read the text message, my lips frozen in a grin, the yumminess of the chocolate cake meandering through my tongue, my mandibles, and then to the back of my ears. Praise for my singing was stale news to my ears. As the lead worship leader in our church, I was sure to get one or two praise reports every Sunday. People told me it was past time to be a recording artist.

I resumed chewing, typing the reply. Thank you, dear. I’m still waiting on the Lord for the green light.

That answer never pleased my admirers, but it satisfied me. And that’s all that mattered. If God wanted me only in the choir and the four walls of my local church, I would still give my heart and soul to the limited ministry.

At teenage, when my talent got discovered in the choir, the thoughts of stardom created varied pictures in my mind, and I immediately chose a stage name: Betty Gold from my actual names Bethany Julien Golden. Many times, I saw Betty Gold, the tall, black girl with a golden voice, go places in and out of the country and collaborated with industry greats. When I wrote my songs, I had a head full of the amazing things that would happen after the songs’ public performances.

 But all that faded as the years exposed how mediocre my talent was, and how far I needed to go if I hoped to measure up with my role models. The last blow on my pride came through the discipleship program started by my former pastor and now espoused by the fiery Pastor Carl. It didn’t matter anymore how many lives I touched, I longed for a quality touch. An eternal touch.

Back in the living room, I migrated from the text message inbox to social media. Since last night, I’d not checked my accounts for updates for what made news in the country and in my virtual friends’ lives.

Several new messages and notifications beckoned on me but loved to read the messages first. However, before I had clicked on the message icon, dozens of wedding photos stole my attention in the news feed. Which one of us is not immediately captivated by that pretty stuff?

Wait, Ithiel got married!

A flaming lightning rod pierced through my heart. My limbs weakened, my molars stopped working, and I dropped onto the couch, still staring down on my phone as though Facebook was playing a trick on me. Or maybe my eyes fooled me.

The soft wool carpet seemed to develop pricks under my soles as my legs itched. Tears scratched the back of my eyes. The pink curtains on my window and door now faded into an indiscernible white. I lost every trace of appetite for the cake as I swiped through the photos, feeling my warm, rapid breath bounce back at my face from the phone.

Ithiel’s bride was stunning, with a gorgeous smile on bloomed cheeks, smoothened to a glistening gold by the touch of an experienced make-up artist. She was way younger, more like she just graduated from teenage.

“Ithiel, you should have given me some respect.”

I swallowed hard, but the tears refused to be caged. “Just six months and you’ve tied the knot. When did you grieve our love? You didn’t even tell me you were in a relationship.”

I had dated him for five months till late last year when his single mother swayed her combined force of paternal and maternal authority over the only child with the argument that at 28, I was too old for the twenty-nine-year-old man. Ours was not Ithiel’s first relationship his mama had dissolved.

I should have followed relationship expert advice to unfriend him when the he became my ex, but we’d split amicably, and a part of my heart had clung to a glimmer of hope for reconciliation. Dump, but not too dumb if you consider the influence of the inspirational stories of tenacious love I read on one blog after the breakup. We chatted often. What could be more inspiring than the story of fettered love released again?

I clicked through to his profile and unfriended him, then I placed the phone of the table beside the abandoned cake and buried my face in a palm. That was the end of my browsing for that Sunday evening.

The hard truth hit me—I didn’t feel depressed so much for Ithiel getting married as I did for the fact that he had found a wife when I still wandered, lost on an empty horizon.

Although I had tried to stifle it by acting ‘spiritually tough’, the angst of getting Mr. Right had been snowballing since Ithiel’s departure. No, before I met him.  I had waited for more than a year after the painful breakup with Barry to have Ithiel, and in five short months, he slipped through my fingers.

In a culture where most girls married around age 25-27, I was threading on shaky ground, transforming into a seasoned single woman.

Every close mate I graduated with from university seven years ago was now a wife and a mother. My stomach lurched most times when I stalked them on social media. Shame and embarrassment greeted me whenever I bumped into any of them in public places. I could never look them in the eye when answering those dreaded questions.

“Are you married?” most asked.

Clutching a baby to her side, another one would ask, “How many do you now have? I have two.”

Still another, with bulged eyes, would exclaim, “You’re not yet married!? I would have sworn that you found Mr. Right. Please there’s no Mr. Perfect.”

I was tired of the questions. And tired of fruitless efforts both offline and online in getting a man. And tired of my Christian body’s stubborn demands, its refusal to acknowledge that I had no legal means to satisfy its sexual cravings. I was especially tired of hopping between both sides of the masturbation debate.

I leaned back in the chair. A putrid odor was seizing the air. Not an odor to be smelled. It was corrupting the joy I’d returned with from church, the exhilaration that had motivated me to bake on a Sunday afternoon.

The odor soon overtook the vanilla flavor that had filled the house during and after the baking of my cake. The cream-white walls and white tiles of my scantily furnished sitting room that once bore a treasured serenity now looked like the shrine of some Belle-Ville witch doctor conjuring up spirits of despair.

I moved to a stool in front of my piano opposite an empty TV stand. Music is my favorite tranquilizer. If it failed to console me, the issue at hand had roots several feet deep.

My bare feet sucked up the icy cold from the floor, so I went into my room for my flip-flops. A large portrait of my smiling coffee-brown face, besides Charlette’s, my music role model, welcomed me from the wall. Many times, I loved to gaze at those photos to remind myself that if God could use Charlette so powerfully, then He could use Betty Gold as well if I followed Him without wavering.

But now wasn’t the moment for such relish. I shoved my feet into the pink slippers near my bed, snatched a sweater from the top of the wooden wardrobe, and picked up my songbook from under the pillow.

Back on the piano in the living room, I flipped through the pages of my songbook. For almost a week, I’d been tweaking the words of this new song titled, You’re Still God.

The inspiration had come from an SOS by a university student in our young people’s group at church. Oh, how I needed that song now to banish the encroaching depression from Ithiel’s marriage.

I have many questions, confusion left and right

Panic draws on closer, clinging to my heart

Everything seems to tell me I’ve come to the end of the road

Just give up, God doesn’t care.

But this is the truth I won’t give up!

You’re still God, you’re still good

And you are faithful, never-changing God x 2

You will do what you have promised

Your word is Yea and Amen, it can never fail

So I cast my care on you, Jesus

Shepherd of my soul, you’re my sure hiding place.

For the next couple minutes, I chewed the cork of my pen, searched scriptures, prayed for inspiration, and wrote. Soon words dropped into my mind as though they were being poured out from a fountain.

I sang and wrote:

Sorrow can only last for a night ‘cause joy comes with the morning

Now I rejoice, for the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus, you’ve risen in my heart

So while this storm lasts, I will keep on serving!

You my God who chose me

Called me by your grace to belong to you

You’re still God

You’re still good

No matter what I face, I belong to you

Yes, you care! You never slumber

Your eyes are on me, you can never forsake

You call on me to cast my cares on you

Shepherd of my soul, you’re my sure hiding place.

 Tears streamed down my face, my tongue tasting the salty waters that wandered into my mouth through the sides of my lips.

“Hi”, a voice said behind me.

I jumped up on my seat, my hands stopped playing on the piano, my heart pounded. Then as fast as lightning, I wiped my face and turned to meet a dimpled fair face grinning at me.

“I’m sorry,” the visitor said. “I knocked several times, but you were caught up in glory. My name is Nancy, your new neighbor. We moved in this afternoon.”

We greeted, and I expressed my joy at having a younger neighbor. The former ones had been a retired couple who rained questions, even for things they should know.

“You’re with your husband, your family?”

“No, I’m with my twin sister. I work at the St. Serita’s Hospital, I’m a nurse, and my twin is a student at the Beaumont University.”

Nancy moved closer to the piano. “You’re a talented singer. I heard you from our apartment.”

I smiled, watched her amuse herself on the keyboard with incompatibble chords. She looked above 25, and if not with her husband, then she was single like me. How comforting to know.

But why were there more single women in their mid-twenties these days? Just a few decades back, Tellasborg’s girls married between the ages of 18-23, then it grew to 23-25, and now it seemed the future would witness a swarm of single women in their thirties.

Some people had explanations for this occurrence, explanations that troubled me: career women and feminism. As a banker, I could be classified as a career woman, a label I hated because I only worked for a living even though I loved my job. But feminism turned out such a slippery and controversial concept that sometimes I wondered whether I identified with it unconsciously.

Nancy stopped playing and turned to me. “I’m glad to meet you. When I heard you sing, I thanked God that He brought us to Christian neighbors. I hope I’m not wrong.” She didn’t smile, more like Christianity meant the difference between life and death to her.

“I’m a Christian,” I replied. “I attend the Grace Tabernacle, Green Way.”

“Great. I’m a member of Fountain Gate, First Merryland.”

When Nancy shut the door after her a moment later, I retired to bed. The joy from my singing had begun to wane and thoughts about Ithiel returned with a strong realization that he was off the market. I had to get another prospect. Soon.

 

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