Love By The Book
Newcastle, England, 2013
The one word that was most often used to describe Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp was dutiful. Her parents, especially, would quickly remark to everyone how she'd always been responsible, how studious she was in school, and that she never missed service at Church.
Her inward beauty was sometimes overshadowed by her outward beauty which had manifested in curly brown hair, copper-flecked hazel eyes, and a gentle, warm smile.
Henry and Julia had doted on her, their only child, since birth, and watched in pride as she grew into a remarkable woman.
With this wonderful reputation, though, came loneliness.
Claire's keen intelligence brought recognition and respect from many, such as her teachers, but derision and envy from others, like classmates. In high school she enjoyed only a few close friends as many were prone to bouts of exuberant drinking and drug-taking to handle the increased academic workload that was a marked change from their primary years. This set them at odds with Claire's abstinence-minded upbringing and natural academic ability, causing them to avoid her and her (seemingly) unreachable example.
In love, it wasn't much better. She'd defended her parent's insistence on chaperoned dates until she turned 18. As a result, most young men weren't comfortable dating a young woman, AND her parent, so dances and school events went by without invitation; the few young men who were willing to take her out didn't call for a second date.
Despite this, she liked who she was. She felt a great sense of fulfillment with how she lived her life, and it brought a freedom from the guilt and worry her friends seemed to be plagued with.
"Life is definitely peaceful, but could use a bit more than just these studies " she sighed one evening while completing her senior project.
Noticing Nora, her equally dutiful basset hound at her feet, she cooed: "God has a plan for me, love. I'm praying for that 'bit more' soon."
When high school was behind her, she enrolled at University as a business major. With this, Claire's friend group had finally expanded as she met others who were as dedicated and conscientious. She also enjoyed the benefit of being able to still live at home and attend her childhood church. Faith and devotion had been a mainstay of her upbringing and the bond with her church family had been strong. So, with top-notch universities within driving distance, Claire felt it both wise and economic to stay at home while finishing her undergrad, though she planned to travel further for grad school.
Even with a blossoming friend group, and impressive academic successes, true, heartfelt love still eluded her.
The last date she'd been on was six months ago. Allen, a classmate, had been finagling a way to get her out for most of the semester.
"Claire, you're the whole package. Brains and beauty!" he often remarked to her.
Because he had seemed nice enough, proven himself in class to be a leader and achiever, she relented.
He had picked her up late, which didn't sit well with Claire. When they got to the restaurant, Claire momentarily hesitated before the door, accustomed to having it opened for her by her father these 22 years.
"For cryin' out loud. You're not one of THEM are you?" Allen groaned.
Startled, Claire asked: "One of who?"
He then dramatically pushed his nose up in the air with his finger to imply she was too good to open the door for herself.
"My father has always done this for me, not to teach me that I was better than anyone, but out of kindness, which you could use a few lessons in."
Business classes had taught her many things, but one thing in particular she quickly recalled: investment in this relationship- not cash, but something even greater, her heart - would be a risk. With something so valuable, she didn't want to take a chance. She walked down the street, hailed a cab, and went home.
Arriving home so soon after leaving, her parents peered out from the kitchen where they'd been engrossed in their nightly game of cards.
"Claire?" her mother called, running to the front door. "Are you alright?"
Slowing climbing the stairs to her room, she dejectedly answered: "No worries, Mum. I'm just going to bed."
Henry looked at Julia. Without thought, they both went up the stairs and knocked on Claire's door.
"Want to talk?"
"Sure. Come In."
Claire, on her bed petting Nora, looked up to face them.
"I feel like my life may never include love…."
Sobbing, Claire covered her eyes.
Henry reached his beloved daughter first, holding her in his arms while Julia sat beside him.
"You know, it took forever for your mother to find me. Poor woman just moseyed about for years, heartbroken and empty, wondering where I was."
Julia poked Henry in the arm, then smiled.
"I think it's the other way around, DEAR."
Claire, always touched by her parent's humor, chuckled.
"I'm pretty sure Mom's right, Dad" she said, while reaching for a tissue.
"She always is" Henry said, winking at Julia.
"Most of the better things always take time - as hard as that may be to hear."
Leaning into her father, he kissed the top of her head.
"Love is something you don't want to rush, or compromise on. You'll know in your heart when it's true, and you made the right decision in walking away tonight. It will bloom. And when it does, you will be beyond grateful that you never settled for anyone else."
Reaching behind her husband, Julia rubbed Claire's back and whispered into Henry's shoulder: "Don't I know it."
Her parents had found each other in a college bible study. After marriage, they pursued their own passions to great result.
Julia Beauchamp, R.N., was one of three owners of an holistic medical practice. Encouraging herbs, acupuncture, and massage therapy over a dependence on prescriptions - with mindfulness to healthy eating and exercise - she had a loving nature that seemed to bring healing itself. Wanting to have greater knowledge so that she could be of even more help, she was pursuing a doctorate in botanical medicine.
Henry Beauchamp, Architect, had devoted his life to a design ethic that buildings could be modern but keep with a traditional, British aesthetic. Every project was envisioned with concern not only for the environment but for its long-term impact. In this regard, each building was both beautiful and functional which had garnered him an impressive reputation.
Buoyed by her parent's advice and comfort, Claire decided to actually anticipate love rather than fear its absence. At church service the following week, Claire and her parents settled into their pew and awaited the sermon.
"Please turn with me to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 29, verse 11."
After a minute or so of page rustling, Pastor Fairchild asked the congregation to read aloud with him:
'For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' Thus says the Lord."
"God has a plan for each of us" he continued, "but He may not reveal it all at once. There will be blessings, guidance, and even people lined up for those who love Him. Our part," he continued, "is to believe and to make ourselves available to serve and teach. In this regard, God's perfect will manifests."
Tears welled in Claire's eyes and warmth flooded her heart.
"Thank you" she whispered.
After service, David - the assistant pastor, and head of outreach - caught Claire as she was leaving the sanctuary.
"Claire! How are you?"
"Good, David! And you?"
"Breathing and Blessed" he replied with a bright smile.
"I don't know if you've heard about the outreach trip to Scotland next month. One of our members recently asked for prayer for a dear friend who is having trouble keeping up with her farm. She's 85, and her family are struggling to maintain it. They've had it for generations. We've discussed pooling talents from the congregation to help her. Might you and your Mum and Dad be interested?"
Normally Claire would dutifully oblige, but with finals coming up, she needed to study. Now in her senior year of college, with acceptance letters from Universities to do graduate work to consider, she had become solely focused on schooling.
With David looking expectantly at her, a still, small voice interrupted her thoughts: "blessings lined up…believe….and be available."
Startled by the revelation, she told David that she would discuss it with her parents as soon as they got home.
"Do let me know? We'd be so happy to have all of you."
That afternoon Claire was leaning against the kitchen counter while her mother ladeled soup into bowls.
"David caught me after service. He asked if we'd be interested in an outreach to Scotland. An elderly friend of a member is having trouble keeping up her farm."
"Yes, we got an email about that the other day" Henry said. "It's Marjorie Williamson's friend."
"It seems that there is a lot of work to be done, which could salvage the farm and make it profitable again" he continued.
"The message did say that everyone could make a contribution, no matter how small" Julia added. "So, are we decided to help?"
Claire, feeling an urgency and an excitedness to not only participate but visit Scotland, gave an emphatic nod.
"I'm guessing Mrs. Antonucci and the hospitality committee will be thrilled to have so many people to cook for!" Claire mentioned, laughing at the enthusiasm the elderly members had in feeding everyone. "I'll bet there will be a fully-fledged chuck wagon tagging along!"
"Fine, then. I'll send David an e-mail and get the particulars" Henry said while eyeing the soup Julia had set out. "But first, my dearest's tomato bisque."