Where Heaven Begins - By Bittner

Chapter One

Be not a witness against thy neighbor without cause; And deceive not with thy lips.

—Proverbs 24:28

San Francisco, August 4, 1898

“We’ve taken a vote, Elizabeth. We understand you will need to find a job and a place to live, and we are ready to help you there, but you will have to leave Reverend Selby’s residence.”

Elizabeth Breckenridge felt as though the blood was leaving her body, beginning with her head and draining down toward her feet. She had no doubt what had caused this meeting of church deacons who sat circled around her with looks of condemnation on their faces.

“May I have an explanation?” she asked, fighting not to cry. Elizabeth always cried when she was extremely angry, but she refused to shed tears in front of these pious judges, especially the two-faced Reverend Selby. Lord, help me not to hate these men.

“Surely you know the reason for this.” The words came from Anderson Williams, who’d once been a good friend to her father.

Liz faced him squarely. “And surely you know me better,” she answered. “How can you do this, Mr. Williams? You were one of my father’s staunchest supporters. You know my family well, and you know how I was brought up.”

Williams shifted uncomfortably, and Liz could see that he was bound to abide by the decision of the rest of these church leaders, six deacons in all. And, of course, the Reverend Thomas Selby himself sat in judgment.

“I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but I do understand it’s possible after all that’s happened to you that…well, my dear…it would only be natural for you to turn to someone for comfort, and perhaps for you to…well…yearn for the safety and steadfastness of a man’s love,” Williams said.

“Love? Is that what Reverend Selby told you? That I turned to him for comfort? That I said I loved him?” Still fighting tears, Elizabeth continued. “Gentlemen, my father always taught that we should not condemn. According to St. John, Chapter 7, Verse 24, Judge not the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. You have made a grave misjudgment, I can assure you. I am not the one who should be cast out of this church, but I can already see that none of you is ready to listen to the truth, so I will not sit here and beg you to believe me! Only our Holy Father knows the truth, and true judgment will prevail when all of you stand before Him!” She turned her gaze to Reverend Selby. “Including you, Reverend, but I forgive you, for if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. St. Matthew, Chapter 6, Verse 15.”

Reverend Selby’s dark eyes narrowed with what Liz interpreted as a literal threat. “We all understand your sad situation, child.”

“My sad situation?” Oh, how hard it was to hold her tongue! That had always been difficult, and right now the Lord was not helping her at all when it came to not harboring hatred and a desire for revenge against the reverend. Deep in her heart she really could not forgive this man! “For one thing, I am not a child. I am twenty years old.”

She turned her attention to the others, men who had known her since she was a little girl; men who had worked with her father to build this church in San Francisco; men who now fell into the common belief that all women were basically weak and needy and were somehow responsible for any man’s basic weaknesses. “My sad situation is not the awfulness of losing both my parents to death and my brother to a higher calling,” she continued. “My saddest situation is that I accepted the reverend’s offer to remain living with him and his wife until I could get back on my feet and decide what to do next after Mother’s death. My saddest situation results from trusting a supposedly godly man and thinking he truly wanted to help me. I misjudged his kindness. Reverend Selby had in mind when he offered his home to me other intentions than just helping the daughter of your former preacher!”

“Daughter, watch your tongue!” The words came from Cletus Olson, another former friend of her father’s. “Don’t add false accusations to what has already happened. We are ready to forgive and help you.”

Liz rose from the straight-backed oak chair in which she sat. She felt like an accused harlot. She took a deep breath, astounded and disappointed at the attitude of these men who’d known her family