On the Way to the Cross

Today’s post will not be my typical post but will be rather be a collection of thoughts and observations regarding Mark 14, which we are currently studying in the 2023 Bible Reading Challenge*. This chapter is so full and rich with lessons and guidance as it describes the last couple of days before Christ’s crucifixion. It gives us so very much to reflect upon as we prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate Resurrection Sunday.

If you have a bit of time, I encourage you to read Mark 14 and then come back and read this post. I am going to share some reflections I had on this chapter. (If you are on the 2023 Bible Reading Challenge Facebook group page, much of what follows will be familiar to you already although I have expanded a bit here on what I wrote there.)

Mark 14 is 72 verses long. Those 72 verses are packed full with the events that happened the two days before the crucifixion. There is so much to take in but here are a few observations from my initial study of this special chapter–

— The woman who anointed Christ with precious oil was anointing Him for His burial and He commended her, although she was criticized as being wasteful in doing so. (v. 8-9) This is a good reminder that we must do what is right and what Jesus has called us to do, despite the criticism that may come to us.

— Christ clearly shows His deity when He gives the disciples directions for where they will have their Passover meal. He knows exactly who to tell them to follow and that a room would already be “furnished and ready”. (v. 13-15) But how did that homeowner know to set up his upper room for Jesus and the disciples?? I guess we will never know that. At least not on this side of heaven.

— Judas, the greatest TRAITOR ever to live, was also a DISCIPLE of Jesus (v. 10-11). He joined disciples in all of their conversations and activities and sat under the teaching of Jesus Himself as He prepared this special group for what lay ahead. Judas pretended to be genuine but he was, in fact, a liar and hypocrite. This is a great reminder that some people are geniuses at pretending to be someone they are not. We must not be gullible and naive as we navigate this current church age. Much prayer is needed as we seek to discern the wheat from the tares.

— I had the thought that v 23-24 very clearly shows that the doctrine of transubstantiation is absolutely false. For Jesus gave the first communion here and He was alive and well. Which shows that the bread and cup did not become His body or His blood. Beware the doctrines of men which are not based on scripture. Transubstantiation is found nowhere in scripture at all. This is most often recognized as a Catholic doctrine but I recently became aware that it is in the Lutheran church, as well, and perhaps others? And, once again, our own personal study of scripture will protect us as we seek to discern the true from the false. It is truly our greatest protection.

— Jesus told the disciples that they will all fall away. They all assured Him they would not. But they did. They did, indeed, all scatter or deny Him upon His arrest. (v. 27-31) And, while this is such a very sad chapter in the life of Jesus here on earth, it can also encourage us. For these disciples whose courage wavered during this trying time went on to serve Jesus well. Most went on to die for Him. This was but a small hiccup in lives given in service for their Master. Oh, the great grace and mercy of God that gives each of us a second chance when we mess up so abominably.

— Jesus sets a great example for those who would follow Him through the rest of the ages as He begs for the cup that He is about to drink to be taken away. He is in great agony of soul during this time and He recognizes that the Father can still remove this awful burden, for all things are possible with God. And, yet, He closes His prayer with this profound statement: YET NOT WHAT I WILL, BUT WHAT YOU WILL (v.36). As I read that sentence, I realized that this is what the prayer of any true follower Christ should–no, MUST–be. For that is what true faith looks like–yielding our will to God’s Will. Sometimes it takes us awhile to pray this prayer with sincerity of heart as we are human and still fighting our flesh, but this is where we should land eventually. Jesus chose to yield to God’s will in this matter of the Cross. And so we, too, must choose to yield to God’s will in both the small and large trials that God brings our way. May it be our heart’s desire to pray this same prayer in our own troubles that Jesus prayed in the midst of His incredible and unique suffering.

— I am grateful that God has not given us the foresight that Jesus had (v.32-36). Jesus knew full well what lay ahead in all of its facets–both the physical and emotional pain and, even more so, the sin of mankind that would rest upon His shoulders when He would breathe His last as a human. This was the cause of such tremendous agony of soul as He prayed at Gethsemane. Aren’t you so glad you do not know the future? The anticipation of an event can exponentially magnify the grief of a distressing experience. What a burden that would be.

— “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (v. 38) Oh, how sadly true this is! Does this resonate with you as it does with me? Jesus says this to the disciples when they fall asleep while waiting for Him. Why can’t they stay awake? Oh, how I can relate. How often my flesh is so weak when I so long to do what is right. Again, the disciples offer comfort to our weary souls. If Jesus not only used these men but chose them, then there is hope that He can use us, as well.

— When Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden, one of the disciples struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. (v. 47) Luke records that Jesus immediately and miraculously healed the servant (Luke 22:51). You’d think that some of those chief priests and scribes and elders would be having some doubts about their agenda at that point! But when wicked men set their hearts on doing evil, there is little to deter them but for direct intervention by God Himself.

— Jesus’s case was not cut and dry but was full of holes and false witnesses (v.56) And, yet, as so often is the case, because of the agenda of the high priests and council, these things worked to condemn Him. It is a reminder that life just isn’t fair. It is also a reminder that God, who could have saved His Son at any point in this farce of a trial, very specifically allowed Jesus to be crucified for the sin of mankind. This was God’s plan so that all who call on the Lord for forgiveness would be saved!

See the Sov’reign of creation, King of earth and skies,
All for sinful man’s salvation thus He dies, He dies;
Yet He lives, a mighty Monarch, reigns o’er every foe,
Causing mortal man to triumph over sin below.

— The final words of chapter 14 (v. 72) may be some of the saddest in the Bible. Peter knew just what he had done and he wept bitterly over it. Jesus had told him that he would deny Him and He had been exactly right. Peter had denied him. Not once but three times. And, once again, Peter is a source of much encouragement to those of us who would seek to please the Lord and then, in a moment of weakness, fail miserably. The forgiveness and lovingkindness God has for us when we fail is overwhelming. And Peter’s life reminds us that those failures need not keep us from living victoriously for Christ. We continue on, learning and growing from them. Oh, what a wonderful reminder.

There is so much in this chapter to reflect upon. We so often think of Jesus’s crucifixion in light of the day it happened and the days after it happened. It has been interesting to study the few days before it happened. I hope you will take some time on your own to read through Mark 14 this week. It is such wonderful preparation as we head into Resurrection Sunday.

* It’s not too late to join the Bible Reading Challenge! We finish up Mark this month and then will move on to Jonah for the month of May. Anytime is a great time to start this challenge! Find out more here.

** These lyrics are from the fourth verse of an old hymn called Crucified for Me, written by Barney E. Warren in 1911.

The Lost Son (Part 5)

The final part of this year’s story is presented today. Instead of a “happily ever after” story this year, there was an unexpected twist. Life is so much like this, isn’t it? It’s so unpredictable. And when you least expect it, tragedy strikes. And, yet, God takes those tragedies and trials and weaves them together for His glory and our good. And then–when we least expect it–He gives us wonderful and unexpected gifts. I hope that you like how this year’s story ends–

       Christmas dawned bright and clear. The kids were jumping on the bed by 7am, excited about their gifts. John and Abby groaned playfully as the kids begged to open presents. After a wonderful, chaotic, and loud morning, they got ready to go to Abby’s parents’ house for Christmas dinner.
       It was around noon when they pulled out of their driveway. Abby’s mind went yet again, as it so often had over the past few weeks, to the disappointment of Uncle Charlie not being there this Christmas. Grandma had taken it pretty well, overall. She had been pretty shaken up by the whole thing but was somewhat comforted by the fact that he had been actively walking with the Lord, which meant she would see him again one day.
       Abby was not so comforted. She had felt a real connection with him upon their phone conversation and her disappointment was profound. She knew he would have fit into their family so perfectly. Why had God allowed him to die at such a horrible time??
       She gave an imperceptible shake of her head, as if to rid it of unwanted thoughts. Today was no day to be having these maudlin thoughts. And she certainly knew she shouldn’t be questioning God’s sovereignty. Sometimes that was hard, though.
       The kids started singing Jingle Bells in the back seat and John soon joined it. Abby left her depressing thoughts behind on this lovely Christmas Day and joined in, as well.
       Soon they were all piling into Grandpa and Grandma’s house with joyous shouts of “Merry Christmas!” and lots of hugs. Grandma Belinda sat smiling in the recliner, hugging anyone who came over to wish her a Merry Christmas.
       Tom and Janet smiled joyfully as the house began to fill up with Abby’s family and the families of her two brothers.
       The delicious smell of baked ham wafted through the air and pies, cakes, and cookies sat on the counter. Abby laughed to herself. Mom always did cook for an army. She knew they’d put away containers and containers of leftovers, just like they did every year.
       Tom thanked the Lord for the meal and the family began to eat. Suddenly, the doorbell rang.
       “Now who could that be?” said Janet, wonderingly.
       Tom glanced her way as he spooned a large portion of mashed potatoes on to his plate, “I have no idea.”
       Janet got up from her place at the table to go answer the door.
       When she opened the door there stood three strangers, smiling.
       “Merry Christmas!” They exclaimed.
       “I am Shelly…” said the woman with the short, blond hair.
       When Abby heard the familiar voice she hurried to join her mother.
       “Shelly! What in the world are you doing here?” She said with a huge smile.
       Janet looked questioningly at Abby.
       “Mom, I’d like to officially introduce you to your niece, Shelly.”
       “Oh, my goodness! How wonderful to meet you!”
       “This is my husband, Shawn,” she pointed to the tall, thin man that stood smiling by her side and then, pointing to the woman with long brown hair who looked very much like herself, “this is my sister, Lori.”
       “Oh, come in, come in. Please!”
       Grandma Belinda sat quietly eating at the table, not realizing that two of her granddaughters had stopped by for a visit.
       Janet brought the two women over to the table and said, “Mom, I’d like you to meet Shelly and Lori. These are two of Charlie’s children.”
       Belinda’s eyes grew wide and she was speechless in her delight.
       They quickly added an extra leaf to the table and retrieved some extra folding chairs from the closet. Cooking for an army had served Janet well on this occasion and they enjoyed a wonderful Christmas dinner together.
       After everyone was filled to the brim with the delicious holiday home-cooked meal, they went into the large family room. Sending the kids down to the basement to play for a bit, the adults sat and talked. Shelly explained how they had happened to come there on Christmas day.
       “After Abby called dad, it became his dearest held plan to come and see you after the holidays. I had never seen him so excited. A few weeks after he died, us kids talked about perhaps continuing his plan. We knew it would never be the same as meeting your own son,” she directed this to Grandma Belinda, “but we wanted to fill in this missing piece to our family puzzle. A few weeks before Christmas Lori and I realized that neither of us had anything special planned over the holidays. Shawn and I don’t have any kids…yet,” she added the yet with a glimmer of hope in her eyes, “and Lori’s two boys are with their father this weekend. Instead of staying home and mourning dad over the holidays, we thought, why not go meet our grandmother at Christmastime? We were going to call in advance, but then started thinking how fun it would be to surprise you. Abby had given every indication that you would welcome us and so we decided to take a chance and here we are!” she laughed.
       Grandma’s heart was full, “Oh, how I would have loved to meet your father. It would have been my greatest gift ever!” but then she continued on, smiling broadly at her two granddaughters, “but having you girls here today– why, it’s just so very wonderful!”
       “Jessie and Kevin want to meet you sometime, too,” said Lori, referring to their other two siblings, “But they have families and so much going on over the holidays so they just could not come along today,” and then she told Grandma Belinda a little bit about her other two grandchildren that she had yet to meet.
       Abby watched them all talk and laugh and thought about how comfortable it all felt. The cousins she had never met already felt like family within a few short hours. She sighed with contentment.
       No, this Christmas had certainly not turned out how she had dreamed. In what felt far too early, Charlie had left this old earth for his permanent home in heaven. A home that is only for those who recognize their lost and sinful state before God and their utter helplessness in being right with Him and, in that helplessness, turn to Christ alone for salvation (John 3:16; John 14:6).
       All at once, Abby realized just how much hope and comfort this really did give. How kind of God to assure Grandma that, even if not in this life, she would see Charlie in the next.
       And then Abby thought of God’s goodness in bringing her two cousins to their door today. Oh, how wonderful for them to surprise Grandma. Amazingly, there was no awkwardness between them and the girls and Shelly’s husband, too, all fit in like they had always been a part of the family.
       Janet came and sat next to Abby and touched her arm, “Thank you,” she said, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
       Abby smiled and hugged her mom. No, this Christmas wasn’t anything like she expected but it was a wonderful Christmas, nonetheless.

An Encouraging Word (and a personal note, too)

Here we are. It’s Christmas of 2021. Last summer we wondered if we’d even see this date. And if we did see it, what in the world would it look like? But here we are.

Oh, the “ship that set sail” certainly hasn’t turned around. We can see and feel that in a thousand small ways: The anxiety we feel about going to under-staffed hospitals; The restaurant that closes at 5pm because they have no workers or perhaps has shut its doors altogether; The rumblings of terrible tyranny going on throughout the world; The censorship and lying by media, government, and the healthcare industry that has become so blatantly obvious.

Oh, yes, we clearly know the ship is still sailing full force towards what is prophesied in scripture. But then again, it always has been, hasn’t it? It’s just picked up a lot of steam as it nears its destination.

Sometimes we can forget as we live our busy lives.

Although, for too many, life won’t ever be quite the same. A chair will be empty at the holiday table this year and many are trying to cope. My heart hurts for you. Far too many are dying. Someone mentioned to me recently that it’s almost like we are getting used to people dying.

And for most people in the past and even now, throughout the world, that was and is the norm. Death was a common occurrence and people expected it. Most of us have lived in a cushioned, unreal way that is really not normal. Many of us have been sheltered from so much awfulness by being blessed with clean water and wonderful healthcare and access to nutritious food and helpful medicines. Particularly here in the United States, the “land of plenty”, we have been spared so much.

I am not sure that this abundance will serve us well going into the future, as it has spoiled us and ripened our hearts and minds to sacrifice our rights in order to keep the “plenty”.

The plenty: Health, wealth, and security. The big three. They’ve become idols in so many of our hearts.

The thought of losing them brings fear and dread. Of course it does. We are human, after all.

There’s only one way to truly overcome that fear and dread and it is to surrender all to God. Our hopes, our dreams, our future, our safety, and, yes, even our health.

Fully surrendering is a long, arduous process and certainly not a one-time decision. But the peace that accompanies our complete submission to God’s Will is truly a peace that “surpasses understanding” (Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:6-7).

I am fully aware that I have become so redundant as I try to encourage us all to keep our eyes on Jesus in this strange, new world and to be ready for the trump that will call us to the marriage supper of the lamb at any moment. The rapture feels oh, so close and yet it could still be a few years out. How long we will need to stay on this ship that is sailing to certain doom is unknown to all but God.

But what we do know with complete certainty is that God will take care of us. These promises are scattered all through scripture and are not given lightly. When God says something He means it.

Of course, this doesn’t mean (as so many are saying in this warped and twisted “Christian” culture) that God will help us fulfill our dreams and life will be wonderful. Scripture doesn’t promise this.

What it does promise, however, is that we will never be alone (Hebrews 13:5), that God will be protect us (Psalm 18:30), that we will be given new mercies each day (Lamentations 3:22-23), that all things will work out for good for God’s children (Romans 8:28) and that we can never be lost if we are saved (John 10:28). There are so many more precious promises for those who have trusted in Christ alone for forgiveness of sin. They are overwhelming in their goodness!

As we approach a new year that is even more uncertain than the last, may we remember God’s great love and care for us. Great is His faithfulness!


And on a personal note: This will probably be my last post for the year (other than the final part of the story, which will be posted on Friday. I hope you are enjoying it! I know I threw a little twist in there last week that you weren’t expecting!) I have family coming for the holidays (yay!!!) and I will be caught up in all kinds of wonderful activities and get-togethers.

As this year comes to a close, I did want to take the time to thank you for reading this blog. Someone said to me recently that people aren’t really reading blogs anymore. And, honestly, I’ve noticed that, if I’m honest. Most don’t really click on links from Facebook or take the time to actually read something unless it’s very eye-catching or extra-fascinating. And, let’s face it, this blog certainly doesn’t specialize in either of those categories.

But God has shown me, at least for now, to keep going. And that is through many of you who have kindly reached out and encouraged me–usually at just the right time. Your emails and messages of encouragement never go unappreciated. If you’ve sent something to me and I’ve not personally responded, please know that I am filled with gratitude. I do try to respond to every email I get but I know that things get missed on occasion.

There is one other item I do want to bring to your attention. Several months ago now, I asked you all to email me if you’d like to stay on my mailing list. I have kept that list and am compiling it. I do plan to make a switch to a different subscription service sometime in the new year so if you’d like to be on that list so that you continue receiving Growing4Life updates, please email me and let me know. (You don’t have to email me a second time if you have already emailed me.)

I hope that you can thoroughly enjoy the holidays, knowing that God is still on His throne and, if we are His, then all is well! Merry Christmas!



The Lost Son (Part 4)

Here is Part 4 of this year’s story! December is just flying by, isn’t it?

       John and Abby pulled up next to an old home. One half was painted blue. The other half was a dingy white. Abby looked at the numbers. She was going to the blue half.
       “Ok, I’ll be right back.”
       “You are sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
       “I just think it would be better to not overwhelm him. Going alone seems the wisest.”
       John nodded and then gave a small wave, pulling his phone out of his pocket to check on what was happening in the sports world.
       Abby noticed the well-maintained little yard and the happy little snowman on the painted porch. Soon she was at the door.
       She took a deep breath and knocked.
       As she waited, she thought about how she ended up here in front of this sweet little home. She had never dreamed how hard it would be to find her uncle. Charlie Clark was apparently a very common name. The fact that Ned and Harriet Clark had moved overseas at some point really complicated things. The fact that none of the family were anywhere to be found on social media complicated things even further.
       Finally, after weeks of searching and talking to what felt like dozens of “Charlie Clarks”, she had found a Charlie Clark that lived in this little half house in a suburb of Kansas City. His kind voice had responded to her questions. Yes, his parents were Ned and Harriet. Yes, he has two younger sisters named Pam and Beth. As the conversation marched on it became very evident that this was finally Uncle Charlie.
       Abby had broached the subject very carefully but she had had nothing to fear. He was aware of his adoption and had been planning to search out his biological mother after the holidays. It had taken him long enough to find her already but “life had always gotten in the way” as he had put it. He went on to talk about his busy life as a plumber and the four kids he and his late wife, Nancy, had had. Uncle Charlie was a delight to talk to, inserting humor into the conversation but also talking seriously when the occasion arose. He was actively involved in his local Baptist church and oversaw the widow/widower ministry there.
       Providentially, John already had a business trip planned to Kansas City the following weekend. Abby couldn’t help but believe this was a God-given opportunity and so she asked if she could stop by for a visit, which he had warmly welcomed.
       That had been two weeks ago. And this is what brought her to this door today. She was hoping to convince him to meet Grandma for Christmas.
       Wouldn’t that be the most awesome Christmas present ever? She thought excitedly as she waited.
       After a few very long minutes, her knock was answered. There stood a woman about her age with short blond hair. She had dark circles under her eyes and looked exhausted.
       Abby cleared her throat in her surprise, looking down at her phone to confirm the house number, and then nervously started to speak, “I…um…I’m sorry. I must have the wrong house. I was looking for Charlie Clark.”
       The woman sighed, “You have the right house. You must be Abby. Dad told me you were coming, although he never did tell me when. Come on in.”
       Abby looked out at the car where John was watching. She subtly shrugged her shoulders at him and then followed the woman inside.
       As she walked into the front room, it was full of boxes and containers. Photos and artwork had been removed from the walls and had been carefully placed on the coffee table. Knick-knacks were piled high on the table that Abby could see in the next room. The tired woman offered her a seat on a comfortable sofa covered with muted blue flowers.
       “Oh, Abby,” she gave a tired smile, “I feel like I know you already. Dad was so thrilled to talk to you. You just have no idea.”
       Abby’s hopes started to fade. Something was very wrong. She was soon to find out what.
       “A few days after he talked to you, Dad had a massive heart attack. It must have happened during the night. My sister found him the next morning. She had stopped by when he hadn’t answered her phone call,” The words were said robotically, as if she had repeated them many times.
       She continued, “I am so sorry, Abby. He was so very excited to meet you and, particularly, to meet his biological mother. It had taken him so many years to finally start the search. Both Grandpa and Grandma had blessed his search and had given him what they knew about your Grandma. I am not sure what was going on inside him, as he tended to not speak too often of his feelings, but there was something in the past year that was driving him on his search. He was planning to reach out after Christmas,” she said the words sadly.
       Abby sat there, stunned and deeply disappointed. She mourned the uncle she would never really know. It was almost made worse by the fact that she had talked to him and they had hit it off so well.
       “I guess I should introduce myself. I am Shelly, Charlie’s youngest daughter. I am working on cleaning out the house and getting it ready to sell. It all feels… surreal,” her eyes looked around at all of the mess.
       “I am so sorry you have lost your father. How awful! I can’t even imagine,” Suddenly, Abby realized that Shelly’s loss was far greater than hers.
       Shelly sighed deeply, “it is. And it was so unexpected. Dad was in such good health.”
       They sat there awkwardly for a minute or two. There seemed to be little else to say, under the circumstances.
       Finally Shelly broke the silence, “I guess, officially, we are cousins…”
       Abby smiled brightly at that, “Yes, I guess that’s true. Very nice to meet you, cousin.”
       Shelly continued, “I know my sisters and brother would love to meet you but this may not be the best time. My sister, Lori—the one who found him—isn’t handling this well at all. She’s been really struggling.”
       Abby’s brow grew concerned as she said “Oh, I totally understand.”
       The two women made arrangements to stay in touch and to perhaps meet at a later time and then stood up. As Abby made her way to the front door she heard Shelly say, “Wait!”
       She turned around and she could see Shelly digging around in one of the boxes. From it she pulled a family photo in a wooden frame. She then went to another box and pulled out a tiny, porcelain angel.
       “Can you give these to your Grandma? This will show her dad’s family,” she held up the frame and then gave a brief description of everyone in the photo. Abby hoped she would remember.
       “And this,” she said, holding up the tiny angel, “meant a lot to dad and I want your grandma to have it.” She went on to explain that most of the abundant knick-knacks they were busily packing away were her mother’s but that this tiny angel had been a gift to dad during a very difficult time and he had treasured it.
       “I was planning to keep it but it just seems right that your grandma should have it.”
       “Thank you so much. I know this will mean the world to her.”
       Abby reached her arms out to Shelly and gave her a warm hug. They had met as strangers but were parting as family.
       John was waiting anxiously and was relieved when Abby opened the car door.
       Sorrow filled Abby’s eyes, “Oh, John. It won’t be the Christmas I had hoped for, after all.”
Find the rest of this story (as well as all of the other Christmas stories) here.

The Lost Son (Part 2)

Here is Part 2 of this year’s Christmas Story! (You can find Part 1 here.)
       After dinner, and with the kids playing a game with John at the kitchen table, Abby went back to her desk and picked up the first letter and stared at it for a few moments. Picking up the cell phone that lay on her desk, she clicked on her mom’s number.
       “Hey, Mom. How are you this evening?”
       “Just fine, dear. Grandma and I were just sitting here talking. Dad is out doing something in the garage. Hanging some new rack or other. You know how important it is that he stay organized,” she laughed.
       Abby looked at her watch. It was only 7pm. Should she or shouldn’t she?
       She took a deep breath and dove right in, “Mom, can I come by to talk to you and Grandma for a few moments? Won’t take long.”
       Her parents lived a short ten minutes away. She could easily be home before the kids’ bedtime routine.
       “Sure, honey. Should I be worried?” Her mom sounded a bit unnerved by the solemnity in Abby’s voice, which she tried, in vain, to hide.
       “Oh, no,” Abby nervously laughed, “I’ll be there shortly.”
       She clicked to end the conversation and sat there for a brief moment, praying that the Lord would give her wisdom. She then went to John and asked to talk to him. They left the kids playing the game without him for just a moment while she explained what she had found earlier that day.
       He whistled through his lips and then exclaimed, “Whoah!”
       “I know, right?”
       “I can understand that you want to know what’s going on, but do you really want to bring this up as we head into the holiday season? Maybe we should wait until the new year?” John rubbed his left ear, as he had a habit of doing in uncertain situations.
       “You are rubbing your ear,” Abby smiled at him, breaking the tension of the moment. He grinned as she continued on in a more serious tone, “you might be right. But it’s too late now. I know about Charlie and the new year feels like an eternity away at this moment,” she paused briefly and then said, “Why don’t I go over and just see how it goes? Ask a couple of questions and see where they lead? I won’t bring it up if it just doesn’t seem like the right time.”
       John agreed and soon Abby was on her way.
       As she pulled into the driveway, she saw both her mom and grandma waving cheerily from the living room window, heads together and smiling broadly. She hoped they would still be smiling when she left.
       Pulling her coat tightly around her, she walked briskly to the door in the nippy night air which was reminding her that winter was only a few weeks away.
       Gathering around her with warm hugs and questions about her day and her life and John and the kids consumed much of the first half hour. Both her mom and her grandma loved exuberantly and without condition. She wasn’t scared to have the upcoming conversation with them but she was reluctant.
       As the conversation about current happenings wound down, the room grew awkwardly quiet.
       “Are you okay, dear?” It was Grandma who finally broke the silence, “you don’t seem quite yourself.”
       “I was just thinking that, as well.” Both sets of inquiring and concerned eyes fixed themselves on her.
       Squirming a bit, Abby tried to decide how to handle this. It wasn’t going anything like she had hoped. Oh, why couldn’t she hide her feelings better? Frustrated and never being one to “beat about the bush”, she made the impromptu decision to just say what what was on her mind.
       “Grandma, do you remember when we had that conversation about me helping to sort through all of the stuff left in your house?”
       “I sure do. And I am so blessed that you would help me with that. It is such a huge and overwhelming task. I could never do it all by myself,” Grandma Belinda smiled with gratitude.
       “Well, there was a wooden box of letters in the attic that I brought home to read through…”
       When Abby mentioned the wooden box, Grandma’s face grew white as a ghost.
       “Mom! Are you okay?” cried Janet, running to her mother’s side.
       “I am fine, dear. Please sit back in your chair,” the pallor of her face belied her faint words.
       Janet walked back to her chair, her mind in a whirl.
       “I cannot believe that I forgot about that box,” Grandma Belinda said the words casually but her breath was raspy, revealing the magnitude of this moment.
       “So you know what I found then,” Abby said this in a low, gentle voice.
       Tear started to form in her grandmother’s eyes as the secret that had been hidden in her heart for over fifty years came to light.
       “You learned about Charlie, then?” She said.
       “Charlie? Who is Charlie?” Janet was beside herself with curiosity by now and wanted to understand what was happening between her daughter and her mother.
       “I guess that is what I am here to find out,” said Abby.
       Grandma Belinda put her face in her hands as she started quietly weeping, her shoulders shaking.
       Janet handed her mother a box of tissues as she asked, “Abby, what is going on?”
       Abby pulled the two letters out of her purse and handed them to her mom. Janet took them, her eyes growing wide in unbelief as she read them.
       “I have a brother? Is that what this means?”
       Grandma Belinda sighed, “a half-brother, yes.” She said the words with defeat and perhaps just a touch of relief. The secret was finally out.
       Abby and Janet quietly waited for her to continue.
       “I will tell you the story. I should have told you a long time ago,” said Grandma, as she started to reveal the decades-old secret that had haunted her for her most of her life.

The Lost Son (Part 1)

This is the sixth annual Growing4Life Christmas Story. It is my small gift to you, my readers, and is offered in five parts which are presented every Friday during the holiday season. If you have recently subscribed you can check out the past Christmas Stories here, should you be interested. I hope that this is a welcome break from the rest of the world for just a few minutes.


Dear Belinda—

I hope this finds you well. We are settling into our new normal with baby Charlie. He loves Ned and just lights up when he comes in the room. I want you to know that we are happy to keep him for as long as you need us to. Please be in touch when things settle down and we will figure out how to get him across the country. Perhaps Ned and I could take a road trip. We have always wanted to do that. Take care.

Love Always,

       Abby stared at the letter in her hand. The box of letters from Grandma’s attic had so far been boring accounts of daily life with an occasional memorable happening thrown in. They were filled with lists of canned fruits and vegetables, illnesses of farm animals, and neighborhood events. Most were from Grandma’s sister, Edna, in Omaha; a few were from her sister-in-law, Martha, in Canada; and then there were just a handful that were from her Grandma’s best friend from childhood, Harriet, who lived in Oregon. The biggest surprise up to this point had been a beautiful love letter penned by her grandfather, a staid and quiet man who rarely shared his feelings. At least that had been the biggest surprise until right now.
       Abby looked again at the shocking letter in her hand. Her eye caught another letter tucked into the large brown envelope from which she had drawn this first one. She carefully pulled it out and unfolded it. The date was five years after the first one had been written.

Dear Belinda,

I hope this finds you well. We haven’t heard from you for awhile and I am a bit worried about you. It is hard to believe Charlie is going to be six years old next spring. He has become part of our family and the girls just dote on him. It’s been fun having a boy in the family and we thank you for sharing him with us.

I do think it may be good to settle in on a plan for Charlie as we move into the future. It’s been five years and we all feel rather in limbo. Do you still plan to raise him now that things have simmered down and Felix is no longer in the picture? Each year we wait will make it harder on us and on Charlie. I guess I am just a bit confused… Will wait to hear from you.


       Abby peered into the brown envelope, hoping for more letters to explain. But there were none. She then shuffled through the rest of the unread letters still in the old wooden box. She desperately wanted to solve the mystery she had just stumbled upon. But the only other letters to be found from Harriet were when she had gone away to camp one summer as a teenager.
       Abby thought of her kind and cheerful grandmother who had just recently moved in with her mom due to some health issues. Did Grandma have a son out west somewhere? Or was there some other explanation? Who was Charlie?
       “Mom! Preston took my doll!” a voice called Abby from the past and back to her little cottage on Willow Lane.
       “Preston…!” Abby called as she pushed her chair back from the small vintage desk in front of her and went to tend to her children.
       A few minutes later, with Preston, Kyle, and Maddy in front of a familiar movie and munching on goldfish crackers, Abby headed back to her desk to see if she could find out more about the mysterious Charlie. She felt a little guilty leaving the kids in front of the TV but she figured for this once it wouldn’t hurt. She didn’t do it often.
       Sitting back down at her desk, she stared out the window and thought of what had just come to light. What other conclusion could be drawn but that her grandmother had had a son named Charlie? It appeared that, instead of bringing him with her when she moved east to marry Grandpa, she had left him in Oregon with her best friend, Harriet.
       Had Grandma Belinda kept Charlie a secret from everyone? Or did Grandpa know about Charlie? Was Charlie still alive? If so, where was he? Did he know he had a family here in Ohio?
       The many questions came like a flood, begging to be answered. Abby looked at her watch. It was time to start dinner. The questions would have to wait.

Visit this page to find all of the Growing4Life Christmas Stories.

Our Response to Christ’s Sacrifice

It is Good Friday. When I was younger, this was an official holiday. Banks and stores were closed and the mail wasn’t delivered as the population at large stopped and contemplated what Christ had done on the cross. At least that was the idea. I think that the actual contemplating had stopped long before I was born but tradition remained for a long time. Until one day, the holiday was just no longer.

But this is still the day, in fact the entire weekend, that we Christians focus on all that Christ has done for us. And, oh, what He has done! I believe I realize more and more each year the wickedness of my own heart and the significance of the gift that was given to me when Christ died on the cross.

As we continue to live in “limbo land” and wait for all the changes that will result from the upheaval to our “normal” lives in 2020, this gift has become even more precious, hasn’t it? And I think any of us who are genuinely born again has thought about this in a different light, as we wonder what it will cost us to continue to follow Jesus in the coming days.

But Christianity has never been costless. Or at least not for the majority of people in the world. We are simply moving into what has been the normal experience for Christians throughout history.

It is difficult for many of us to pay even the price of a scowl or an unkind word when we speak up for Jesus and so we remain silent. This is because we have been deceived by the wave of self-centered Christianity that has taken the world by storm. A Christianity where it’s all about God’s love and His “genie powers” to make our lives on this earth amazing.

But, while God’s love is certainly an integral part of the Gospel, we must continue to read God’s Word to find out what salvation means. What all it entails. You see, we aren’t saved so that God can fulfill our dreams and give us a great life on this earth. His Word makes this abundantly clear. And, while it is true that we experience peace and joy that the unsaved cannot experience, it is supernaturally experienced through the trials–not in the lack of them.

So what does God expect from us after we are saved? What does He have for us to do?

Let’s look to the Word for this answer–

Philippians 3:8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Matthew 6:20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Colossians 3:1-3 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

These verses clearly show us that after we are saved, our love for the world should start waning. Oh, for most of us this isn’t instant but, gradually, as we mature in Christ, the gleam of the world shows itself for what it is: Fool’s gold that has no value. The fame, the glory, the riches, the popularity of the world dim as we grow closer to Christ.

James doesn’t mince words as he also echoes this change in affections–

James 4:4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Not only are our affections changed, they MUST be changed if we are truly born again. For them not to be changed gives evidence that we aren’t saved at all since it is impossible to be friends with God and with the world at the same time.

As we stand for the truth of God’s Word in a world that hates Him, we will face difficulties and persecution. This is made clear throughout scripture–

Matthew 5:11-12  Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I Peter 4:12-14 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are [e]reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. [f]On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.

Christ died on the cross to give us life. What an awesome, incredible gift! But that life is to be lived for Him, doing the good works He has set out for us–

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

In response to God’s amazing gift of grace and mercy, we are to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Christ–

Luke 9:23-26 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross [b]daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.

We are to deny ourselves. Lose our lives (all earthly advance and glory) to live for Christ. If we are ashamed of Christ, He will be ashamed of us. In a Christian culture that promotes the complete opposite of these verses, these are sobering thoughts, are they not?

Biblical Christianity isn’t popular these days and it’s growing less popular by the minute. People think we are strange and odd and even dangerous (which makes no sense at all until you read John 8:44 and I Peter 5:8 and recognize Satan’s pure hatred for believers).

As we contemplate Christ’s sacrifice this weekend, may we also prepare ourselves to pay the price to follow Him to the end. No matter the cost.

And let’s remember that we aren’t relying on our own strength as we face the days ahead. (I can’t think of a more comforting thought than that, as my heart can tend to quiver at the road that lies ahead.) We know the ending to this old earth’s history. We know the King who will be victorious and we are on His side. He will give us the fortitude and courage to stand strong. May we proclaim Him to the end, no matter the cost!



Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 5)

Today marks the final chapter of the 2020 Christmas Story. I hope you have enjoyed your visit to a simpler time in Lupine Valley. If you would like to read the rest of the story or any of the Christmas stories from previous years, you will find them all here.

I hope you a happy Christmas, in spite of all the craziness in our world. I read these words somewhere this week: “Just because the world is aflame doesn’t mean my world has to be on fire.” And how true this is for those who are saved. God has been so faithful to His own in 2020 and we know He will continue to be faithful as we head into 2021. So keep sharing the Gospel with the lost and keep encouraging and edifying fellow believers as we wait for the day when we will be caught up in the twinkling of an eye to experience glory forever!

On to the conclusion–

  Christmas Day dawned bright and clear. Grace was fixing breakfast while Clara sat on the rocking chair, watching the fire. Baby Edward lay sleeping in the old cradle that Henry had retrieved from the barn loft and then tenderly cleaned and polished.
  Conversation flowed freely between the two women as Grace set the table. In the center of the table she placed a small and treasured Christmas figurine of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.
  “How nice to have our own Christmas baby this year,” she said happily.
  Clara looked over at the cradle where her baby lay and smiled. She already loved him more than life itself. Her smile dimmed as she remembered that he probably would grow up without a father. The thought of this made her heart so heavy. Imperceptibly, she gave her head a little shake. She wouldn’t think about that today. After all, it was Christmas Day and she would soon be leaving these new and dear friends who had been so kind to her. She wanted to enjoy this day. There would be plenty of time to think about the future tomorrow.
  “I wonder why Henry isn’t in from the barn yet,” Grace went to the window to look out, “Well, I’ll be…”
  “What is it?”
  “Someone is outside with Henry. Who in the world would come visiting on Christmas? I hope nothing happened at the McCullough farm,” Grace worried as she thought of the large, needy family that lived about a mile from them.
  Henry started walking towards the house. A stranger, left arm hanging useless and awkwardly at his side, walked beside him. It definitely wasn’t Mr. McCullough.
  Grace went to the door and opened it for the two men. As they walked through the door, a loud and joyful cry was heard.
  “Eddy? Eddy!” Clara leaped off the chair, despite the fact that she had just had a baby.
  Eddy and Clara were in each other’s arms in seconds. Henry and Grace looked on wonderingly. Why, it was their own Christmas miracle.
  Clara, with tears streaming down her face, finally spoke. “I thought you were dead, Oh, Eddy, I thought I’d never see you again. How did you find me?”
  Eddy held on to his wife tightly until he spotted the cradle.
  “Is this our baby?” He said with awe. He moved to the cradle and gently bent down to touch the little hand that had flung itself out of the blanket.
  “Meet Edward Henry,” Clara said proudly and then she added, “We may want to call him Henry now that his daddy is around.”
  “Henry is a right fine name,” He looked at Henry appreciatively as he said these words.
  “Come, come, let’s eat breakfast. There is plenty,” Grace’s words encouraged them to the table where a veritable Christmas feast was laid out before them. Bacon, sausage, eggs, flapjacks, and sweet rolls all gave off a wonderful fragrance, while a basket that held a few big oranges sat nearby. This treat had become a Christmas tradition and Grace always looked forward to her first bite into the luscious, round fruit.
  Henry thanked the Lord for the food and then, as Grace poured cups of strong coffee, Eddy started to fill them in on how he came to be with them on Christmas Day.
  His division had been fighting the enemy on French soil when he had become injured. He had been knocked out cold and, in the fray of the chaotic retreat from the battle, he had been left for dead. When he awoke he was in the home of a family who lived high in the mountains. Though they couldn’t speak a word of English, the family both protected and nursed him. He spoke of them fondly as he explained that it took several months to recover from his injuries.
  “Unfortunately, my arm will never be the same,” he said this soberly as he looked at the helpless limb hanging by his side.
  “I don’t care. I am just glad you are here. That’s all that matters,” Clara stated this with fervor.
  Eddy smiled tenderly at her and then continued. He had stayed with the family until just a month ago, when he was finally able to communicate with the war office that he was alive and needed to get home.
  When he arrived home, it was to find out that Clara was no longer there and had not even received the information that he was still alive. Not knowing what to do, he had traveled to her parents, hoping to find her there. Thankfully, they had heard from her just a few weeks earlier and could tell him exactly where she was. When Henry had arrived at Oak Ridge that Christmas morning, he had knocked on the door of the church parsonage where Pastor had kindly directed him to his little family staying in Lupine Valley.
  Clara sighed with contentment, “I still can’t believe you are here.”
  The rest of Christmas Day was spent in joyous celebration. It was a special day to be remembered by all.
  Late in the afternoon, Henry brought the wagon around, so that he and Grace could head into town to have dinner with Jack and Martha. Eddy and Clara decided to stay home with baby Henry and enjoy some time together as a family.
  As Henry and Grace made their way to town, they went over their exciting day. To think that Eddy was still alive and reunited with his little family! How amazing!
  Little did they know that they had their own surprise in store.
  They were soon in front of Jack and Martha’s house. James and John, with little Millie not far behind them, came out shouting “Grandpa! Grandma!”
  But who was this? Another child stood shyly in the doorway. Why, was that their granddaughter, Caroline, all grown-up? But no. It couldn’t be!
  “Mom! Dad! Surprise!” And out rushed their son, their daughter-in-law, along with their three children. And, there, behind them, stood Jane!
  Grace’s eyes welled up with joyful tears as she surveyed the happy group before her.
  With smiles and laughter, they told Henry and Grace how they had been planning this special reunion all year.
  Christmas dinner was crowded and oh, so noisy and Henry and Grace loved every second of it. Soon, it was time to go home. Many happy plans were made for the coming days and, with assurances of seeing one another again soon, they took their leave.
  As they drove home under a clear sky full of stars, Grace sighed contentedly, “I believe this is the happiest Christmas I have ever had.”
  “I would agree with you on that, my dear. God is so good.”
  And with those words, Henry reached his strong arm around Grace and hugged her as the horses led the wagon back to the little cottage in Lupine Valley.


  Eddy, Clara, and little Henry left a few weeks later. They had become like part of the family during those weeks and Henry and Grace watched them go with sad hearts. Letters and visits were promised as they gave each other parting hugs.
  Henry had placed a well-worn Bible in Eddy’s hands before they left.
  “Young man, this has been an invaluable and irreplaceable source of guidance to me here on earth, as well as showing me how I can be saved for all eternity. I hope that you will read it and take it seriously.”
  Eddy took it soberly and promised he would.
  As Henry and Grace watched them climb into the train, it was with hope in their hearts that they would soon be part of the family of God.
  “We’ll just have to keep praying. God is so faithful,” said Grace.
  Henry squeezed Grace’s hand as they started off for home. It had been a Christmas never to be forgotten in Lupine Valley.


If you enjoyed this year’s story, would you consider letting me know? It is so helpful as I plan for next year. Thanks so much!

Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 4)

It’s time for Part Four of this year’s Christmas story. If you’d like to go back and read the rest of it, you can find the first three parts here. The final installment of the story will be presented on Christmas Eve (Thursday) next week.

  The next few weeks flew by, as Christmas Day rapidly approached. Henry and Grace invited Clara to stay with them until the baby was born and she agreed that would be best. She had received a telegram from her parents, stating they would pay for her fare home when the baby was old enough to travel. With this settled, Clara was able to enjoy the holiday season as she settled comfortably into the little, pleasant cottage in Lupine Valley.
  Grace had many opportunities to share with Clara about the baby that came that first Christmas night. She explained how baby Jesus would grow up to die for the the sins of man and that, through Jesus, anyone could be forgiven of their sins and be reconciled to God. Clara didn’t say much, but she did listen. She hadn’t ever heard the story of Christmas put quite like that before and it gave her much pause for thought. Meanwhile, Henry and Grace prayed that she would come to know the Lord Jesus personally, contemplating that perhaps this was the reason for their special Christmas guest.
  Clara joined Grace in all of her many holiday activities, although she grew noticeably more tired as Christmas Day approached.
  On the day before Christmas Eve, Henry drove the two women into town to make some cookie deliveries. They had made dozens and dozens of cookies the day before and now it was time to deliver them. The festive plates of cookies, wrapped with red bows, bounced up and down as Henry carefully guided the wagon to town.
  They first stopped at the church parsonage, where Pastor was studying for his Christmas sermon.
  “Oh, Grace, what a lovely gift! Mabel wasn’t up to making cookies this year, so this is a wonderful surprise!” He said with a twinkle in his eye as he rubbed his ample belly. His wife suffered from a chronic health condition.
  Grace asked after Mabel and they spoke a few more pleasantries before heading back to the wagon. They next headed for the doctor’s office.
  Henry carefully helped Clara off the wagon here so that the Doctor could give her a quick check-up. Thankfully, he was there when they knocked on the door.
  “Well, what have we here? No baby, yet, Clara?” He laughed.
  “Not yet, Doctor Miller,” Grace’s voice reflected the fatigue she felt in every bone of her body.
  “Well, by the looks of it, I’d expect that young’un any day now!” The doctor gratefully took the large plate of cookies from Grace and then gave Clara a quick examination. Announcing that all looked well and that he expected the baby to make an appearance any day now, he sent them on their way.
  After stops to deliver cookies to the Widow Burgess, elderly Mr. and Mrs. Whitley, and several other townspeople, they finally drove the wagon to Martha’s house with the last two plates of their cookies.
  “Oh, Mom, thank you for these! I just wish I could have helped you make them this year! I didn’t even have time to make any for my own family,” Her broad smile showed that she didn’t mind too terribly much. Motherhood suited her. Martha loved to bake cookies but she loved being a mama even more. With two month old twins added to her other four, all who were under the age of eight, it was just a little too much to help this year.
  During their visit, Grace happened to look up and see Clara holding tightly on to her belly with her eyes closed. She made her way over to Henry and whispered in his ear. He nodded and announced that it was time to go.
  James and John, Martha’s two oldest boys, protested loudly, “Awwww, but you just got here, Grandpa!”
  Henry quietly leaned down and said something. The boys looked over at Clara and nodded their heads quite seriously. They understood.
  Martha told Grace that if they needed her, she could come. Jack would gladly stay with the kids in an emergency. Grace smiled gratefully and, in a flurry of good-bye hugs and kisses, they climbed in their wagon.
  Clara grew more and more uncomfortable with each bump and shake of the wagon as it made its way back to Lupine Valley. Grace tried to make her as comfortable as possible but there was little she could do.
  When they arrived home, Clara announced that she was going to go lay down.
  Grace was uncertain. Had Clara’s labor officially begun? Or was she coming down with that flu bug that was going around? Finally, she went into the room with a cup of hot tea to see if she could find out.
  “How are you feeling, dear?”
  “Awful. Just awful. I have such a back ache,” she rubbed her lower back as she spoke.
  “Are the pains coming with any regularity?”
  “No, not really.”
  “Okay. Here is some hot tea. Please call for me if you need anything,” she gave Clara’s hand a gentle squeeze.
  “Okay,” she said feebly.
  The day passed by quietly, with Grace checking on her every hour or so. The pains did start becoming more regular as the evening wore on, indicating that she was indeed in labor, so Grace shooed Henry off to bed and decided to sleep in the rocking chair. She had just dozed off when she heard a loud cry. She jumped up, trying to figure out where she was, when she suddenly remembered. Clara!
  She ran into her room to see her thrashing about on the bed in pain.
  “I think it’s soon time,” she said, gasping for breath.
  Grace ran out of the room to tell Henry to fetch the doctor. He was soon saddled up and riding towards town.
  Meanwhile, she tried to remember everything she could about a baby’s birthing. After setting a pot of water on the fire to boil and finding some clean cloths, she went and sat by Clara’s bedside to wait for the doctor.
  Thankfully, Henry was soon at the door with Doctor Miller.
  “Well, Miss Clara, are you ready to be a mama?”
  Clara smiled wanly.
  Henry waited impatiently in the main room, while Grace and the doctor aided Clara in the bedroom.
  An hour later, he heard a loud cry. Grace soon peeked her head out the door.
  “Is all well?” he asked anxiously. The girl had become like another daughter to him in just the few weeks she had been staying with them.
  Grace gave a huge smile as she affirmed that it was, “It’s a healthy baby boy. Naming him Edward Henry, after his missing father and after you, my dear.”
  Henry was shocked and delighted to hear this. What a wonderful Christmas surprise.
  As Christmas Eve dawned, the people in the cottage in Lupine Valley were a happy, exhausted bunch. There is nothing quite like a new baby at Christmastime.


Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 3)

Today I present Part 3 of this year’s Christmas story. I hope you are enjoying it. It’s been a little more challenging for me, as it takes place in the past during a time I have not lived through. It means a bit more research for me but I find it pretty interesting (for example, what kind of writing instrument did someone use in 1917?) My goal is to make the story as real and authentic as possible, so hopefully I am accomplishing that purpose. If you missed the first two parts of this story you can find them here.

  The following morning, Henry and Grace quietly ate breakfast while the girl slept. Oh, how exhausted she must have been.
  When Grace peeked in on her after breakfast, she was just waking up.
  “Good morning, dear. I hope you slept well. I took the liberty to wash a few things in your bag so you’d have something clean and fresh to wear today. It dried so nicely by the fire overnight. We can wash the rest of your clothing today in some nice, hot water,” and with those words, she laid a dress, along with some fresh underclothing, on the chair in the corner of the room and then quietly left, closing the door behind her.
  Soon the girl came out of the bedroom wearing the clean dress and a shy smile.
  “Are you hungry?”
  She nodded her head and sat down at the table, where hot coffee and delicious-looking flapjacks sat waiting.
  Grace sat quietly by the hearth as she waited for the girl to finish eating. She tried not to look impatient but inside she was chomping at the bit to hear the girl’s story.
  Finally, the girl turned to her, “Thank you so much, ma’am. That was delicious.”
  “You are quite welcome. Do you feel up to talking this morning?”
  The girl sighed, “Yes. I guess I do owe you my story after all you’ve done for me.”
  Grace gave her the comfortable rocker and then pulled a chair close by. She asked her a question to get her started, “What is your name, dear?”
  “Clara. Clara Hill.”
  “And how old are you? Do your parents know where you are?” Grace asked gently.
  “I am twenty. And I am actually on the way to my parents. Maybe I should start at the beginning,” she said and then continued, “A couple of years ago, I got married to Edward Hill. We grew up together. He wanted adventure–Eddy always wanted adventure his whole life–and so we got on a train and headed west. We didn’t get that far before we ran out of the little bit of money we had saved and we ended up in Slate Valley because that is where Eddy found work.”
  Grace recognized the name of the town that was about 20 miles northwest of them.
  “Mama and Papa weren’t very happy that I was moving so far away, but I was full of adventure myself and excited to go,” Clara sighed and then continued, “Everything went okay for awhile. Until earlier this year when Eddy was drafted.”
  Grace remembered that there had been a draft for World War I last May for the young men in the country. It hadn’t affected her or her family but Clara’s predicament reminded her of how many must have been affected.
  Clara went on to explain that a few months after she realized she was pregnant, Eddy had left for the War. She had lived a lonely, friendless life in a few rooms above the cobbler’s shop. When she had gotten behind on her rent by a month and couldn’t pay yet again last week, the cobbler had told her she had to be out by the following day. He didn’t seem to care or consider her condition.
  Grace’s mouth fell open. How could anyone be so cruel?
  Clara continued, “The landlord reminds me of Mr. Scrooge in that Dickens story. Only no spirits have visited him yet.”
  The women both smiled and then Clara continued, “The day after that happened, I received word that my husband was missing in action,” she tried to say it without emotion but gave a little pause to catch the sob in her throat and wipe her eyes with the back of her hand, “At that point, I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t mind living there when it was Eddy and me. But being there without Eddy and knowing he was probably never coming back and, with no money and now no place to live, well, it just seemed time to go home. So I packed a bag along with a bit of food and decided to try to get to Mama and Papa before this little one makes its appearing. It’s only a few hundred miles and I figured I might find a little help along the way. But it may not have been so smart to do that with the baby coming and all.” She finished with a big, hopeless sigh.
  “When do you expect your little one?”
  “I really don’t know,” she shrugged her shoulders. With some tactful questioning, Grace realized that she hadn’t had seen a doctor or midwife up to this point. But, in a quick evaluation of her condition with her limited experience, Grace wondered how wise it was for Clara to be traveling anywhere right now.
  “Surely there is a church in your town? Did you ever reach out to the pastor? Or some of the church ladies? Surely, they would have helped you.”
  Clara grew a bit uncomfortable at this point and Grace was sorry she had mentioned it. Finally, she said, “I’m not really a church kind of girl and those church ladies always seemed like real snobs when I saw them in town.”
  Grace tucked that knowledge away for later and then asked, “So how did you end up here in our woods?”
  “Well, I was traveling on the road from Oak Ridge when it started to grow dark. I saw your lane and it looked so friendly-like, that I thought maybe I could find a cozy place to rest for the night. I saw that little path and then found that old tree by the crick and, well, it looked pretty safe there. I am so sorry if I am causing you any trouble,” she looked genuinely worried about this.
  “Oh, my dear, we are so glad you are here and want to help you. It seems like you’ve had a very rough year,” Grace’s comforting words fell over Clara like a soothing balm.
  “You know, God is in the business of meeting needs. Just look at how He brought you right to us in Lupine Valley!” Clara wasn’t sure she agreed with Grace, but she smiled, anyway.
  “So the first thing we need to do is write a letter to your parents, letting them know you are coming home and to expect you. I don’t know exactly how yet, but we are going to get you home.”
  Grace pulled out a piece of paper and a fountain pen from a shelf above the little desk they kept in the corner. She invited Clara to come and sit down to write.
  “In the meantime, we are going to have Henry send them a telegram so they know you are safe.”
  Clara looked down at the ground and seemed embarrased, until finally Grace realized she probably couldn’t write. Scolding herself, she kindly said to her, “Why don’t you tell me what you want to write?”
  The next few moments were spent with Clara dictating a short but meaningful letter to her parents telling them she was coming home. Grace folded it, put it in an envelope, and then addressed it with the information Clara gave her.
  Leaving the young woman sitting by the hearth, she pulled on her shawl and took the letter out to Henry, where he was chopping wood.
  “Could you take this to the post office and then send off a telegram to them, as well. If it was Martha or Jane, I’d want to know they were okay,” as a mother herself, she wanted Clara’s parents to know as soon as possible that their daughter was in safe hands and that they would figure out a way to get her home.
  Henry said he would finish cutting the wood and then head out. And, true to his word, he was headed to town in the horse and wagon within the hour.


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