Authors: Alison Strobel
Tags: #General, #Christian, #Contemporary Women, #Fiction
What people are saying about …
“A fascinating story of one woman’s search for God, of falling and rising and finding that we’re never alone. In Rachel’s struggles, many readers will recognize their own.”
best-selling author of
Never Say Never
“This honestly written book is a must-read for any survivor of ‘churchianity.’ Realistic and transparent, Rachel Westing will strike a familiar chord with anyone who’s ever felt disenfranchised with contemporary ‘Christian’ culture. I lent this book to a friend—and she called it a life-altering story. Way to go, Alison!”
author of The Four Lindas series and 86 Bloomberg Place series
is one of the most emotionally powerful and insightful books I’ve read in years. The author’s intimate understanding of spiritual truth and the frailties of the human heart is evident in this well-written story. The conflict was so genuine and believable that it took my breath away and moved me to tears. God is really going to use this book to reach the hearts of people who are floundering in their faith.”
author of over a dozen novels including
It’s Not About Me
and the best-selling
Danger at the Door
is the story of a young woman who finds herself questioning her faith and engaging in dangerous behaviors when her relationships are torn apart. Author Alison Strobel draws the reader into Rachel’s world where, after spiraling into disbelief and brokenness, she begins the uphill, grace-filled journey back to God and a life punctuated by hope.”
American Christian Fiction Writers’ “Book of the Year” author of
“Alison Strobel delivers a tsunami of emotion in
I haven’t read another book that grew with as much intensity and depth. Deceptively innocent in its first chapters,
will grab your heart and hold it captive, leaving you breathless until the end. Novel Journey and I give it a high recommendation.”
editor of Novel Journey, NovelJourney.blogspot.com
“Alison Strobel’s novel depicts the painful unraveling of a self-righteous soul—and her reascent up a daunting spiritual mountain. Strobel’s passion for her character’s journey and pursuit of truth comes through loud and clear on the page. For every reader who has doubted God through troubled times, this book is for you.”
Never the Bride
Published by David C. Cook
4050 Lee Vance View
Colorado Springs, CO 80918 U.S.A.
David C. Cook Distribution Canada
55 Woodslee Avenue, Paris, Ontario, Canada N3L 3E5
David C. Cook U.K., Kingsway Communications
Eastbourne, East Sussex BN23 6NT, England
David C. Cook and the graphic circle C logo
are registered trademarks of Cook Communications Ministries.
All rights reserved. Except for brief excerpts for review purposes,
no part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form
without written permission from the publisher.
This story is a work of fiction. All characters and events are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is coincidental.
© 2010 Alison Strobel
The author is represented by MacGregor Literary.
The Team: Don Pape, Nicci Jordan Hubert, Amy Kiechlin, Erin Prater, Karen Athen
Cover Photo: iStockphoto, royalty-free
First Edition 2010
Maggie, I dedicate this book to you. I will always treasure our friendship, regardless of how many miles and time zones away we might be. (But let’s try to see each other soon, okay?) I love you, sister.
Many, many, many thanks go out to:
Matt, Linda, and Karin for bringing life to my characters by giving them their names. I hope you like how they turned out!
Amber, for giving me a glimpse into the life of a coffee-shop manager.
Maggie and Laura, for schooling me in the realities of alcoholism.
Amy, Heather, and Elizabeth for sharing your psych-unit experiences.
The folks at David C. Cook for signing a book that looked a little iffy at the start and ended up being very different (though I think we’d all agree
) from the original concept, as well as for extending both my deadlines and granting much needed grace as I wrestled with Rachel and her story.
Nicci Jordan Hubert, who is really the one responsible for this story existing at all. Through three drastically different incarnations and some seriously bad writing, you persevered with me and walked me through the most heinous writing experience I’ve ever weathered. Thank you for your encouragement, your friendship, and for pushing me to be a better writer.
My parents, Lee and Leslie, for making it possible for me to live my dream. I am the luckiest daughter in the world. I love you guys so much!
Daniel, my partner in life and love. Without your willingness to play Mr. Mom, I wouldn’t be writing, period. I am so blessed to be married to someone as encouraging and sacrificial as you. Thank you for being my cheering section, for protecting me from theological heresy, and for being such an amazing father to our girls. They are so lucky to have you, and so am I. I love you.
My Lord and Savior, for whom my books are written and my life is lived, and without whom I would be nothing.
Rachel Westing pulled into the parking lot of Beach Cities Church and finished the last sip of Ethiopian Harrar she’d been nursing. The exotic coffee had required a half hour detour up the coast, but she’d needed a break from the seminary application she had been working on that morning before frustration made her head explode. The traffic on Beach Boulevard had given her plenty of time to think, but she was no clearer on the essay she still needed to write. Rare coffee usually sparked her creativity, but as she left the cool cocoon of her car for the SoCal May heat, she resigned herself to the fact that she was no closer to starting her paper than she’d been over an hour ago.
The worship team was polishing their set in the sanctuary when Rachel arrived. Despite feeling like a raincloud of consternation followed her, she sang along with the leader as he came to the chorus.
The love of God is greater far, Than tongue or pen can ever tell.…
Upon hearing the words, warmth spread through her, and the cloud began to dissipate. The concept of God’s love would never cease to amaze her.
Rachel exchanged waves with fellow volunteers as they caught each other’s eyes, basking in the familiarity and security she always felt when she entered the building. After setting her Bible in her usual spot, she headed back out to the foyer where the associate pastor’s wife was preparing the refreshments table with coffee and cookies.
“Coffee, Rachel?” Lily was setting out the plastic cups and stir sticks on the flowery tablecloth.
Chasing Ethiopian Harrar with Folgers crystals was coffee sacrilege. “No, thank you, Lily. But thanks for asking.”
“You’re welcome. Oh—I have something to return to your mom, but she wasn’t at the service this morning. Are your parents out of town?”
Rachel bit her lip, thinking. “No, they’re around—or should be, anyway.” That was odd. They never missed church.
Lily waved a hand. “Not a big deal. I probably just missed them. Anyway, how are you? How’s the wedding planning coming along?”
Rachel smiled, hoping her eyes didn’t betray her slight frustration. “Sometimes I feel like it’s never going to be done.”
Lily chuckled as she refilled the containers of packaged sweeteners. “I remember that feeling. Just keep in mind it’s the marriage and not the wedding that matters in the end. Everything else is just fluff. Wonderful, beautiful, fun fluff, of course—but fluff nonetheless.” Rachel felt herself nodding—she’d heard this advice many times before. “What’s the date again?” Lily asked.
“Well …” Rachel brushed invisible crumbs from the table. “We’ve been going back and forth on that. June, most likely.”
“Next month?” Lily’s eyes grew wide.
“No, no—June of next year.”
“Goodness, that’s a long time.” Lily helped herself to coffee. “Certainly I can speak for the church ladies by offering to pitch in if you’d like to make it happen sooner. I’d be happy to do the cake myself, and I’m sure Gwendolyn Meyers would love to do the flowers. We may not be the biggest church in the world, but I’ll bet we can get you just about everything you need. You just let us know what needs doing, and I bet we can have you two under the same roof by autumn.”
Rachel gave Lily a hug. “You’re so sweet. I’ll talk to Patrick and see. Sooner rather than later would certainly be my preference.”
“Absolutely,” Lily said. “So where is that fiancé of yours, anyway?”
Rachel looked around. “He usually meets me right before the service starts.” She caught sight of one of her girls in the parking lot. “Oh—there’s Amanda Kline. I need to talk to her. Thanks again for the offer, Lily.” Rachel jogged out into the late afternoon sun to greet the high school sophomore, whose head was bent over her cell phone as her thumbs moved over the keypad.
“Oh, hey, Rachel!” Amanda gave Rachel a smile. “I was just texting with Macy. She said she’d try to come tonight, but she’s got a lot of homework.”
Rachel frowned. “Again? Someone has to help that girl with time management. She hasn’t been here since Easter.”
“Yeah, I know. If she could convince Jeff to come, I think she’d be here more often.”
“Jeff? Whose that?”
“Her boyfriend—didn’t she tell you? They started going out back in March.”
“Oh. No, I didn’t know about him.” Rachel was surprised Macy hadn’t told her about this guy. They’d e-mailed enough that it definitely should have come up. “Is he a Christian?”
“I think so, but I’m not sure. I know she’s gone to church with him a few times.”
Rachel made a mental note to call Macy this week and schedule some hangout time. Macy was a sweet girl, and Rachel didn’t want to see some boy pulling her away from her church family when she was at such a formative age. “Anyway, how are you doing, Amanda? Classes going all right?”
“Yeah, they’re okay. Only three weeks left until finals—I can’t believe it! This year went fast. And then there’s only six weeks until the Mexico mission trip. I’m so excited.”
Rachel smiled. The girl’s enthusiasm reminded her of herself when she was Amanda’s age. She had fond memories of those same mission trips with her high school leader, Barbara, who was still one of Rachel’s closest friends. She hoped Amanda—and all the other high school girls she worked with—would make the same choices she had made and still be faithful Christians when they were her age.
Rachel and Amanda talked about the upcoming mission-trip fundraiser while they waited for a few other girls to arrive. Olivia showed up a few minutes later, trailing her mother and sister who passed Rachel with a wave on their way into the sanctuary. Gracie, Natalie, and Jenny showed up in quick succession, and together they all trooped into the sanctuary to claim their row.
The worship band took the stage and began to play the first song. The aisle seat beside Rachel remained empty, embarrassing her. Where was Patrick? She was also disappointed to see that Macy hadn’t shown up again. She was likely being led astray, Rachel decided, and Patrick was probably still buried under English essays that needed grading. She wished he taught something straightforward, like math, so she could help him grade. She hated when his whole weekend was consumed with work, especially since Sunday was the only day during the week when they both were off. Yet another reason why she couldn’t wait until they were married—at least then they’d share a bed at night and breakfast in the morning.
The worship band was filing off the stage when Patrick finally slipped into his seat. “Sorry,” he mouthed to her when she looked at him with eyebrows raised. She rolled her eyes and smiled, then gave his hand a squeeze. At least he showed up.
When the service ended the girls took off en masse for the bathrooms as was their usual practice, leaving Rachel in the dust. She and Patrick hung back in their seats as the sanctuary emptied. “What happened to you this morning?”
“Time got away from me. These essays are killing me—you’d never know we’ve spent the last three months discussing proper writing technique.”
She rubbed his back. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. Just a few more weeks and you’ll be done for the year.”
He heaved a sigh and squeezed her knee. “Amen to that. You should get going before the girls decide to go AWOL.”
She planted a kiss on his cheek, then stood. “See you after, then—think about what you want for dinner. I was thinking maybe Chinese.”
Patrick sucked in a breath through his teeth, pulling a face that made her heart sink. “I don’t think I can tonight, babe. I’ve got to get these papers back before Tuesday, and if I don’t get through a bunch more tonight then it’s not gonna happen with baseball tomorrow.”
Rachel groaned. “But I haven’t seen you all week.”
He stood and wrapped his arms around her. “I know, I know, I’m sorry. This is always a busy time for me, with the coaching and everything. But like you said, just a few more weeks and then we’ve got the whole summer. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
“Okay, okay.” She kissed him on the cheek, then picked up her purse and Bible. “Take a break and call me tonight, okay?”
She fought off bitterness as she exited the sanctuary and headed for the classrooms across the courtyard. Lily’s suggestion came back to her as she passed the cookie platters that were nearly picked clean. She decided to broach the topic of a this-summer wedding when Patrick called her that night. She knew that wasn’t what he’d been thinking when he’d promised to “make it up to her,” but it didn’t hurt to ask.
After Sunday school let out and she’d given rides home to Natalie and Amanda, Rachel stopped at Dream Cream and picked up a pint of Caramel Craziness to bring to Macy’s.
Armed with the ice cream, she rang the bell on Macy’s front door. Macy’s mother answered, smiling. “Rachel, hi. Come on in. Macy’s upstairs—go on up.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Bell. Mind if I grab a couple spoons first?” She held up the pint.
Mrs. Bell chuckled. “Sure, help yourself—there’s bottled water in the fridge, too, if you’d like some.”
Rachel held the waters, spoons, and ice cream in a precarious grip as she climbed the squeaky wooden steps to Macy’s attic room, then bumped open the door with her shoulder. “Surprise, surprise—hope you’re ready for a study break!”
Macy smiled, though it looked the way Rachel’s own smile felt when people asked her about the wedding. “Hey, Rachel! Oh yum—thanks for bringing ice cream. I need some refueling.” She stacked the textbooks that were spread on her bed. “Here, sit down. I’ve been working on this stupid study guide for AP History for, like, three straight hours, and I feel like my brain is melting.”
“I remember that feeling.” Rachel pulled the top off the pint. “Dig in. First bite is yours, you poor, suffering student, you.”
Macy scraped her spoon along the smooth top of the ice cream. “How was church? Sorry I couldn’t make it.”
“It was good. Pastor Mark’s doing a series on Ephesians. It’s been really eye opening.” Rachel took her own bite and let the ice cream melt in her mouth before continuing to talk. “But Amanda totally surprised me—she said you were dating someone. I had no idea—you’ve got to give me the lowdown!”
Macy’s smile was authentic this time, and Rachel couldn’t help but smile along with her at the memory of her own high school crushes. “Yeah, I’m dating this guy, Jeff Anders. He works with me on the yearbook committee. I think you’d really like him. He’s such a strong believer, and he’s been really challenging me.”
It wasn’t what Rachel had expected to hear, but it didn’t ease her concerns, either. “Where does he go to church?”
“His family is in a house church.”
Rachel frowned. There was the catch. “A house church, huh. Like a small group?”
“No, it’s more than a small group. They don’t go to a church building; they don’t have all sorts of ministries and stuff like we do. They just take turns meeting in each other’s homes, and they do dinner together and hang out and discuss theology and stuff. It’s really cool.”
Rachel concentrated on her next bite of ice cream, searching for a way to be diplomatic. “That sounds … interesting. But I’d be wary of a bunch of people meeting without any sort of leadership or trained pastor, Macy. That sounds like a recipe for shaky doctrine. Why don’t you invite Jeff to come to our service next week? Maybe he’d enjoy it, and then you could be sure you’re getting truly Biblical teaching.”
Macy stabbed her spoon into the ice cream and slouched back against the pillows on her bed. “This is why I didn’t tell you about this earlier, Rachel. I knew you wouldn’t like it.”
Rachel fought the defensiveness that rose in her chest. “I just want to make sure you’re not being taught untruths, that’s all. What do your parents think about it?”
Macy shrugged. “They don’t care. They’re just glad I’m going to church somewhere.”
Righteous anger over the Bells’ lack of discernment joined the concern she felt for Macy. “But if they’re not associated with a particular church or denomination, how can you be sure they’re not a cult?”
Macy let out a laugh. “They’re totally not a cult, trust me. Seriously—they’re the godliest people I’ve ever met. I don’t know anyone at our church who has a relationship with Jesus that these people do.” She leaned her elbows on her knees and stared at Rachel with an earnest face. Rachel was stunned—and slightly offended. But Macy continued, oblivious. “I’ve been a Christian my whole life, Rachel, and I’ve never felt like I really knew God. I always felt like there was this wall between him and me. But talking with these people, seeing how they approach the Bible, and prayer, and service—they’re friends with Jesus, the way I want to be.”