Chapter Twenty Four

The work Sam wanted to accomplish on the property went over and over in his mind preventing him from sleeping. All he was doing was tossing and turning so he slipped out of bed and quietly got dressed. Robin and the girls had returned later than planned from the conference and had stayed up half the night talking so he knew she was exhausted.

He started the coffee and took a shower in the main bathroom so as not to wake her up. He had packed his bag and put it in the truck the night before so he was ready to leave. He was leaning over the island countertop going over his list of the things he needed to take from the barn when he heard someone coming down the stairs. Robin came in the kitchen wearing her purple t-shirt, her eyes squinting at the bright light. “I reached over and you were not there,” she said.

“Yeah, I was tossing and turning so bad I was afraid I was going to wake you.”

She came to him with her arms in front of her and he wrapped his arms around her. “Were you going to say good bye?” she said sleepily.

“Yes, honey, before I left I was going to come in and give you a kiss. I didn’t want to wake you. You had a late night.”

“Yeah, it was fun. Erica and Linda shared their testimony together. It was really good. I talked some more with Heidi about Ben. I wish he would call. ”

“I know honey. I wish he would too but he has to figure things out for himself.” Sam said rocking her back and forth.

“I know, it’s just hard,” She said nuzzling into his neck. “What time are you leaving?” she teased.

“I have time!” he laughed, squeezing her.

“Shhh…” Robin whispered, “Heidi is asleep on the couch in the other room!”

Sam laughed. “That would be awkward!”

Robin swatted his butt saying, “I made you a lunch and some snacks in the refrigerator in the mudroom.”

“Man! How’d I get so lucky getting you?”

“God knew you needed help!” she laughed. “When are you going to be back?”

“Probably Sunday night,” he said.

“Okay, please talk to Cory about Monica. I will be praying for you.”

“Thanks, honey, I will. I love you.”

“I love you too Sam. Please be careful!”

She walked out to the truck and laid her hands on the hood of the truck and on Sam’s shoulder and prayed. “Dear Heavenly Father I ask that you please watch over my husband and our dog and ask that you cover them, the property and this truck with the blood of Jesus. Guide them with your firm hand and give him wisdom, in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

Sam said, “Thanks honey.” As he opened the door, Marty jumped into the front seat. Robin watched Marty sitting next to Sam drive down the driveway. She had an uneasy feeling in her stomach. He watched her in her purple t-shirt and thick black glasses in the rear view mirror disappear as the garage door went down, thanking the Lord for her.

Sam stopped by the gas station on the way over to Cory’s topping off trucks fuel tanks including the seventy five gallon tank behind the cab and filled five additional jerry cans with diesel. He wasn’t sure how much they needed to get the work done, but wanted to take advantage of having the equipment on site and did not want to waste time running back to town to get more fuel.

When he got to Cory’s place, Cory was binding down the equipment on the trailer. Cory asked Sam to grab a pipe next to the shop as a cheater for tightening the chains. As Sam walked by the window, he noticed Monica’s car parked back behind the shop. It was a weird place to park her car and Sam asked Cory if there was something wrong with it.

“Yeah, she blew a head gasket in it, so she needs to either get it fixed or buy a new car. I told her that she and Tyler could stay here until she got on her feet. She is driving my car in the meantime.”

“Oh! Hmmm,” Sam stuttered,. He didn’t know quite what to say. He wasn’t expecting Cory would come right out and blatantly admit Monica was living with him and the way he explained it made perfect sense. She needed help and he was helping her out. Surely they were sleeping in separate rooms and everything was on the up and up.

Cory could tell that Sam was shocked and said, “Yeah, I know it isn’t right but it is actually working out pretty good. I told you before that I didn’t really want to get married anyway. I think she is getting accustomed to it.”

“Yeah, I remember you saying that. I just wonder what people in the church are going to say.” Well so much for that theory, Sam thought.

“You know? Monica told Pastor Mike that she needed to stay here for a while. He told her that she really shouldn’t, but, really, that is all that has been said. Besides, he isn’t going to say anything. He wants my tithe check every two weeks.” Cory said laughing. “What’s he going to do? Kick me out of the church?”

Sam thought to himself, Boy, when Robin hears this she is going to blow a gasket!

Sam was leaning up against the tracks on the excavator and asked, “Cory, you know so much about the bible and end time prophecy and you have told me multiple times how we are in the midst of it; it blows me away that you are willing to live with Monica instead of marrying her? I don’t get it. As much knowledge as you have about God, I would think that you would be afraid of Him coming down on you with this decision.”

“Yes, I know!” Cory said. “Me too! I know better and you would have thought that I would feel guilty about this, but I don’t’. I even know that this is probably a mistake! It is really weird!” he said, finishing up with the last binder. “Monica felt guilty initially, but now she is fine with it too. We are going to go with; God’s grace is sufficient on this!”

“I sure hope it is for your sake! “ Sam felt guilty saying that as soon as the words came out of his mouth. Surely God’s grace is sufficient. After all, how big is your God, Sam? “I know one thing, I will sure feel a lot better when we get a place set up to bug out when it hits the fan! I was up all night thinking about what we needed to have to get ready.” Sam said.

“I think this is a wise move Sam. Looking around at the world right now and the decisions that our leaders are making, I can see where this country is going to fold up soon and it is going to be wise to be self sufficient.” Cory said. “I think we are going to need to get a group of like minded people together and have a plan set up not for if things go south, but for when they do!”

Sam thought about the irony in what Cory had just said, calling out the leaders of the country for dropping their standard, but wasn’t he doing the same thing with Monica?

Chapter Nineteen

“Ben let’s get going, were going to be late for church.” Robin hollered for the third time.

“I don’t feel like going to church today, mom.” He responded back from his bedroom.

Sam had just come in from checking on the new calf. “Where’s Ben, we need to get going?” he asked Robin.

“I don’t know what has gotten into him. He is acting strange. He says he doesn’t feel like going to church. I have asked him three times now.”

Sam went to Ben’s room and knocked on the door. “Hey chop, chop were going to be late. Let’s go!”

“I don’t want to go today.” Ben said stubbornly.

This was unusual for Ben. They never had to ask him twice about going, he was typically waiting on everyone else. “What’s up, son? You always want to go to church.”

“I just don’t feel like it today.” Ben said.

“Well, get going, and we will talk about this later.” Sam said impatiently. “You know how your mom hates to walk in late to church. I am right with her on that too, so let’s get going!”

The last thing Ben wanted to do was talk about this later with his folks. He dreaded going to church and running into Pastor Mike. The last look he gave Ben was enough for him to hide for the next hundred years. He was tired of going to church anyway. There were too many rules and those rules confined his freedom. After tasting that forbidden fruit with Susan he couldn’t get it out of his mind. He thought about her all the time and wanted to have sex with her again and she felt the same way. What was the big deal anyway? It was their bodies; they should be able to do whatever they wanted. It wasn’t like they were hurting anyone else. The more he thought about it the more he felt like he needed to move out and get a place of his own so he could live how he wanted to live. Living under the roof with mom and dad was too confining anymore. The problem was that he wanted to go to school at the University of Idaho in their Agriculture program. If he moved out, he might lose mom and dad’s blessing for assistance. He didn’t want to get a loan. The smart thing to do was to live here at home until fall and then he could have a place of his own in Moscow. Reluctantly he got dressed and hurried out to where they were sitting in the truck. He could tell his mom was annoyed at being late.

Robin told Sam that Erica was going to bring Linda out this afternoon to meet them and she thought it would be nice to have them stay for dinner.

They arrived at church five minutes early. Cory Jacobs was walking in at the same time and stopped to talk to them. Robin asked him how Monica was doing, his face flushed and Robin wondered if it was just an early spring sunburn. “Oh, she is good. She is going to be leading worship this morning actually.”

“Oh good, I would like to visit with her!” Robin exclaimed. Sam told Cory about going back out to the property to find the corner pins with Aaron. He asked Cory about the old road up to the spring and how hard it would be to get equipment up there to develop it. Cory had an older small excavator that he could let Sam use if he wanted to haul it up there.

Ben scoured the building to see if Pastor Mike was anywhere to be seen. He saw him talking to an elderly gentleman on the far side of the church so he headed in the opposite direction to where his family normally sat. Once he got there he opened his bible and stared at the pages.

Sam shook Pastor Mike’s hand on the way to their seats. Pastor Mike acknowledged Robin and asked how Ben was doing. “Good, I think, he’s finished with school now and trying to figure out what the next move was in life.” Pastor Mike followed Sam’s glance over to where Ben was sitting reading his Bible.

Pastor Mike looked at Sam quizzically wondering if maybe Ben had told them about Mike catching Ben and Susan behind the church. Mike chose to hold his tongue and give Ben an opportunity to talk to him personally.

Sam and Robin worked their way over to where Ben was sitting. Sam sat next to Ben where he was still staring at his bible. Sam reached over and took Ben’s bible and turned it around saying “You will understand it much better if you read it the right way up.” and smiled at Ben.

Ben’s face flushed. “Dang, I just can’t catch a break!” he spoke under his breath. It all compelled him to pray, “Please Lord just get me through this service without running into Pastor Mike.”

Monica stepped up to the worship platform to open in prayer. Before she began she caught Robin’s eye. Robin gave her a supportive smile and Monica looked away abruptly, stuttering with her opening prayer. The lights dimmed and worship began. Monica avoided looking over at Robin. She knew that Robin would find her after service and ask how things were going with Cory. She did not know what she was going to say to her so she devised a plan to grab Tyler and quickly go somewhere with him. Monica and Cory had driven separate cars to church to give the impression they were living in separate places.

After service Sam, Robin and Ben were working their way out of the crowded church. Pastor Mike was shaking hands and when they passed he put his hand on Ben’s shoulder smiling said “How are you doing Ben?” Ben’s knees were shaking and he couldn’t think clearly. Everything was a blur. His hands were sweating profusely. He was searching for anyway out of this situation. “How’s Susan?”

“Oh, hi Pastor Mike. Susan is great!” he said in a complete panic. Suddenly he saw Tyler and said “Oh hey, there’s Tyler, I have to go!” and hollered to Tyler.

Robin looked at Sam with an “Okay, that is weird” kind of look and she saw Monica heading in that direction too.

“Hey Monica!” She called out. Monica saw her and knew there was no avoiding the meeting, she reluctantly gave Robin a hug. “How are you doing Robin? That dress looks so good on you!”

“Well thank you Monica! How are you doing?”

Monica spotted her son, Tyler, talking to Ben. Tyler was lavishing the attention that Ben had suddenly given him. “Oh there’s Tyler” she exclaimed! “I need to take him downtown and we are running late! It was so nice seeing you Robin.” She turned abruptly heading in Tyler’s direction. “Hey Tyler are you ready? We need to get going or we’re going to be late.” Robin saw the confusion on Tyler’s face as his mom pulled him away abruptly from the conversation with Ben.

Robin went over and put her hand on Sam’s arm “Something is up with Ben.”

“What?” Sam asked.

“I am not sure but we are going to find out!” Robin said determined.

Ben was already sitting in the truck staring blankly into the parking lot when Sam and Robin got there. Sam looked at Robin acknowledging the strangeness in how Ben was acting.

“Are you alright Ben?” Robin asked.

“Yes, why?”

“I don’t know you seem a little preoccupied.” Robin started “You kind of cut Pastor Mike off when he was talking to you and that seemed out of character for you.”

“I just needed to talk to Tyler about some stuff, that’s all.”

“Oh what is going on with Tyler?” Sam asked.

Ben panicked he hadn’t had time to think of a good answer and blurted out “Well I wanted to ask him how it was going living with Cory now. He said it was weird living there the other day at youth group.”

“What? Monica and Cory are living together?” Robin said shocked. That explained why she acted the way she did after church.

“Does Pastor Mike know about this?”Sam said.

Ben was having an out of body experience. Everything was coming down on top of him. He couldn’t keep all of the stories straight and wished he hadn’t said anything. “No, no one knows about it and I wasn’t supposed to say anything.”

“Well we need to take this to Pastor Mike because this is not right. Monica is leading in worship and Cory is a prominent man in the men’s group. This is not acceptable for any Christian leader in the church!” Robin said determined.

Ben realized how this had completely unraveled. The last thing he wanted to do was to sit down with his parents with Pastor Mike. He blew up and said “I am not going to be a snitch on my best friend! He asked me not to tell anyone.”

“Well honey this needs to be dealt with. Premarital sex is a sin in God’s eyes and when it is in the church then it effects the whole church body.”

“Man, you are so Holier than thou, mom! Everyone has sex now days. You need to get with the program!” Ben screamed.

Sam slammed on the brakes and pulled the truck off the road almost putting it in the ditch scaring everyone in the truck and the cars following him. He turned around to face his son and said “Don’t you ever talk to your mother like that again!”

Robin gently put her hand on Sam’s arm and softly said to Ben. “What is going on Ben?”

Ben had tears running down his face and he was looking out the window into the field. He had one eye cautiously on his dad. Sam had never been aggressive like that with Ben and it was frightening.

With a sigh Ben told his parents what happened after youth group, how Pastor Mike, his wife and their daughter had caught them having sex in the truck in the parking lot of the church.

Robin was shocked and started crying “I cannot believe that you did that Ben. We have tried to raise you to be a good Christian man and model what that is supposed to look like.”

They drove in silence the rest of the way home. Robin stared out the window touching a Kleenex to the corner of her eye.

As they pulled into the driveway Sam told Ben. “You need to understand something son. This is not going to be happening under the roof of our house. You need to talk with Susan and stop this and change the course of the path you’ve turned on.”

Erica and Linda had arrived while Sam and Robin were at church, they were now coming out of the house towards the truck. Everyone looked at them, the truck doors were all open and Ben said, “Yeah right dad, you will not allow me to love my girlfriend but you’re going to let a prostitute live in your house!”

Sam lunged for Ben but Ben ducked and ran to the Willy’s Jeep sitting in the driveway. Robin grabbed Sam’s arm and said “No Sam! Let him go!” Erica turned to Linda in shock who was looking at the ground ashamed.

A rooster crowed from the barn.

Chapter Four

 

When they pulled up to Cory’s house the garage door was open, the light was on, and there was a plastic dog kennel in the driveway next to a red cooler with a shotgun case leaning against the garage wall. Cory walked out just as they pulled up in the gray three quarter ton Ford crew cab.

Cory Jacobs had an excavation business that Sam’s engineering firm used often for some of the work that they did. He was a stocky man, shorter than Sam and built like a wrestler; Sam thought he was a good guy to have in his corner when needed. Cory also went to Seven Mile Community Church where Sam and Robin attended. Cory was dating Monica Anderson, one of the worship leaders at their church. Cory was a prominent and the couple was well liked.

Ben got out of the pickup and said “Hey Cory!” Cory grabbed him and gave him a bear hug. “Dad said you got a new dog! What kind is it?”

“A Vizsla” Cory said “He is a motor with a nose attached to it!” He opened the kennel and a long legged, long eared slender dog burst out. Picking up the kennel Sam put it in the back of the truck and strapped it to the sides so it would not slide around. “I brought an old sleeping bag along to put over the kennel if you need.” Sam said. “Or he can ride in the cab with us. It is pretty cold out and he doesn’t have much hair!”

“Oh, I think he will be okay in the back” Cory said. “I have a coat for him too. That sleeping bag is a great idea!”Snowy Road_4323

It was beginning to get light when they hit the back roads. It was heavily overcast and the wind was blowing steady out of the east which meant more snow was on the way. There were no tracks in the fresh snow ahead of them and the truck burst through three foot drifts in swales where it was allowed to collect.

Cory was telling Sam about how slow it was at work and how the economy seemed to be slowing down. “It is just kinda crazy out there. They say the economy is back to normal but work is awful slow. It doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe it is the weather.” he said. “Something in my gut just isn’t sitting right with everything that is going on in the world right now. It’s not just the economy either it’s everything. Everyone seems to be at war or threatening war and then it’s like everyone is against Israel too. That is such a podunk little country it doesn’t make sense why the entire world is surrounding them!”

“Ya, All the Arabs are against everyone. I just don’t understand those Muslim countries. They even hate each other. I say let them all go at it and let them shoot each other.” Sam replied.

“There has been a ton of earthquakes over in Japan too.” Cory continued. “It seems like the whole world is falling apart. This isn’t the same country we grew up in. It seems like it is like backwards. What’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right. It’s very bizarre, definitely not the country we grew up in that is for sure!”

Ben was listening from the back seat and piped in saying, ”Did you hear about that earthquake yesterday in Oregon?” Susan said she felt it. “It was like standing on a waterbed. Stuff was falling off the shelf at her grandma’s house. It was kind of scary she said but it sounds cool to me!”

Cory answered them saying “Well you know what the Bible says about this? When you see wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes in various places with all these other things happening too, start looking up!”

“Oh ya, the Rapture” Sam said “Do you think it will really happen in our lifetime? I think they have been saying that for every generation since Jesus died! We will probably see the country collapse before Jesus comes back but I don’t know about the rapture.”

“Ya, crazy times. “ Cory said. “Hey can you pull off somewhere so I can unload some coffee?”

All three and Marty got out to relieve themselves. The snow was a at least six inches deep and all of them wrote their name in the snow except Marty.

Sam decided to throw the tire chains on the front tires of the truck. “It’s better to have them on before we get stuck!”

With all three men working together they had the chains secured on the front tires in matter of minutes. The wind was blowing hard and it was cold on their hands even with gloves on and the heater felt good when they resumed.

“If we can find them, the birds should be sitting tight with all of this snow and wind.” Sam said. “There is a place up this road that Robin and I looked into buying up this canyon a few years ago. She doesn’t want to buy the place but I sure feel drawn to it for some reason. Do you mind if we stop by and check it out?”

Cory agreed and they turned up the remote road driving deeper into the canyon. The chains on the front end added much more traction and the truck cut an aggressive path through the fresh snow. An occasional jack rabbit left its signature occasionally crossing back and forth across the desolate road.

Sam pulled up to a gate with the resemblance of a road behind it. An old “For Sale” sign dangled off to the side of a post whipping in the wind. The phone number was faded but readable. Sam got out and took a picture of the number with his cell phone. He cupped his hand blocking the wind to look up the hillside at a rocky bluff three quarters of mile away up a steep hillside. Going back to the passenger side of the truck he motioned Cory to roll down his window. Both Ben and Cory rolled down their windows. Marty stuck his head out too not wanting to miss out on anything. Sam pointed up to the reddish colored bluffs and said “I bet there are some birds up there at the base of those bluffs. Do you want to give it a shot?”

For you girls, this is a chukar

For you girls, this is a chukar

“You bet!” Both Ben and Cory agreed looking into the bleak snow covered high mountain desert landscape. Ben wondered how anything could live in this country but he was ready for a good hike even if it was going to be a cold one. He had been cooped up since football season and was ready to test his knee.

 

They loaded up their daypacks with extra shells. Robin packed a nice lunch for both of them individually marked and wrapped up. Sam told Ben “Your mom is amazing!” and Ben agreed wholeheartedly shoving the remains of a chocolate chip cookie in his mouth.

They hiked up an old road which wound its way towards the bluff. The snow was deep but fluffy and the climb was steep heating their bodies rapidly. The cold wind stung their faces causing them to pull their coat collars up and the wool hats tighter over their ears. When they got closer to the top Cory suggested splitting up and walking three abreast side hilling across the mountain about fifty yards apart. Sam agreed and Cory volunteered to take the top position and Ben took the bottom. Chukars typically flew down hill using gravity to aid in their escape advantage. Ben and Sam waited for Cory to climb higher up the hill before splitting up and working evenly across the mountainside. The wind was at their back howling louder the higher they climbed, the cold brutally cut through their winter coats.

Suddenly Cory shot above them. Both Sam and Ben looked up as a flock of at least twenty Chukars dove over the top of them like bombardiers on a sortie. Both of them raised and fired missing cleanly the first shot. Sam lead the next shot by a country mile and the bird rolled as did the next. Ben fired one more time, connecting with a bird which set his wings and sailed down in the bottom. Marty excitedly headed for the first bird that Sam hit. Sam was digging in his pocket to get more shells when two other birds flew overhead. His gun was empty and he yelled at Ben who whirled around and dropped one on the first shot. “Nice Shot Ben!” Cory exclaimed from on top of the bluff. Ben had a big smile on his face. That shot had surprised him too! Ben picked up that bird and told Sam that he was going to take Marty down to the bottom to find the bird that had set its wings. Cory hollered at Sam letting him know that he was pursuing another covey that had flown up above him and would catch up in a little bit.

Sam wanted to check out the spring at the base of the bluff and told Ben to meet him there after he found the bird in the bottom. The closer he got the more interesting protected area looked; it was a cove hidden in the rocks. The wind was whipping the snow causing his face to sting and his eyes to water. Visibility became nearly impossible. As Sam approached the edge of the spring he was surprised to discover green plants growing at the edge of the spring, even covered by several inches of snow. He blinked his eyes struggling to see clearly.

Suddenly the wind stopped. Clearing the tears from his eyes he looked around. He had entered a windless protected area at the base of the rocky bluff. He turned and took a couple of steps back only to discover the wind nearly knocked him over; one step made the difference between a fierce wind and perfect calmness. That was so cool he thought. The semi-circular open area was about seventy five yards across and there were five recessed caves into the base of the bluff. They didn’t go far back into the bluff, only about ten to twenty feet. The top of the bluff was sixty feet above and the face was red sandstone. He walked over to the largest cave and realized that there was water trickling down from the roof at one end. The water formed a small pool before seeping over the slope down to a freshwater spring that formed in the center of the cove area. Standing back he surveyed the landscape and determined that the spring in the center probably created the cove by eroding from underneath the bluff collapsing the material down the steep hillside. The caves themselves were formed by springs eroding the sandstone through a process of ice wedging in the winter forming the room sized caves. What amazed him the most was the green grass and water cress growing in the water and how lush it was for being the first part of January. The green in contrast to the deserts harsh winter surroundings was amazing. He set his gun down and took his pack off to explore a little closer. He crawled into the cave and sat down looking out at the valley floor below him. He could easily see for twenty miles. On a clear day he could expect to see fifty or even a hundred miles.

He couldn’t quite stand upright in the cave but with a little work this could actually be livable if you were a cave man kind of guy. He walked around to the other caves. They were smaller and had similar attributes. There was no evidence of human activity like black soot against the rock or trash lying around. Taking a closer look at the spring he noticed how clear the water was and it was actually moving forming a stream that eventually disappeared a hundred yards down the slope. There were fresh deer, rabbit, chukar and coyote tracks. He wondered how safe it was to drink. He went over to his pack and sat down rummaging through it until he found a small pill container with a couple of Ibuprofen in case of emergencies. He put the pills into and extra plastic baggie and used the bottle to get a sample of water. As he was putting the pill container back he found his compass and checked the coordinates for the aspect noting that the hill side faced south southwest. In his mind he imagined what and where the sun would be like in the summer. He was amazed at how the plants could grow protected inside the cave where the water dripped. The rock face collected heat during the day and prevented the plants from freezing at night. He went out in the center of the semicircle and kicked the snow out of the way to reveal a rich black soil. A garden would grow well here provided you could keep the critters away. The soil on the hillside along the bluff was rocky and not good for growing. The little area created just enough wind break that the soil being carry by wind depositing it right around the spring and over the years of natural recycling plant material it had built up the sandy loam into a rich fertile soil. The sixty foot cliffs surrounding the cove would provide adequate shade from the searing summer heat. Upslope drafts from the valley floor would cool the summer temperatures and generate wind power. By the way it was howling only 30 yards away electricity would not be a problem. His engineering mind kicked into gear taking in all of the possibilities of this little paradise. If a person got in a bind they could use this as a shelter; especially if there was any truth to what was happening in the world outside this small paradise This fortress was only an hour from town and very secluded. He wondered how many people knew about this place. Cory’s discussion earlier that morning about the rapture came to mind. If “shit really hit the fan” as he was hearing so much about lately, this would be a great place to ride it out.

He heard Ben shoot twice and watched as he and Marty searched excitedly for something. A surge of pride swelled up in Sam as he sat on a large boulder and watched. Ben was a good son. He worked hard at whatever he did. It had been only a few years ago that Sam had spoken sternly to Ben about the laziness Sam was beginning to him. Sam recalled his words, “That may be okay for your friends but no son of mine is going to be lazy!” Ben matured the following summer when Sam was able to get him on the survey crew at work pounding stakes. The survey crew worked long hard days and that was good, but the downside was, he had brought back some language from the job. Robin insisted Sam have a talk with Ben and nip that bud immediately. Ben respected his parents and did his best to honor them but it was tough when he was working with the survey crew. They cussed like sailors and were always checking women out downtown. They made it a point to eat their lunches at the park to watch women in their short shorts walking and jogging on the greenbelt. For a teenage boy it was hard to stand against that peer pressure. Sam had told him that he couldn’t save Ben from that and he was getting old enough now to start making those hard decisions and living the way God desired him to live; not like the rest of the world lived. He explained to Ben that it wasn’t going to be easy but that he needed to stand up at some point for what he believed in. Sam thought Ben responded well to their talk but did notice how the crew teased him afterwards. It was hard for Sam to watch but he also knew he couldn’t step in either. He didn’t know how well Ben would do under that peer pressure. Honestly Sam was relieved when that summer was over and Ben was back in school. Ben was a good looking young man and the girls took notice which was altogether another problem. Sam had experienced the same problem when he was younger, and still did. Women had always found him attractive and often approached him aggressively. That temptation was tough for any man. Since he had met Robin twenty four years ago nothing could make him waver for the love he had for her. He thought about her and her sense of humor. It brought a smile to his face. He remembered seeing her the first time she walked into the Broken Lives Recovery Fellowship group at Seven Mile Community Church. He knew the minute he laid eyes on her that he was going to marry her. She, however, was not ready and had no interest in any man. Period. She had recently gone through a nasty divorce laced with brutal physical and mental abuse. Her ex-husband had been a jealous controlling type that constantly accused her of cheating. He had been intensely insecure and after living under that canopy of fear, she was not about to test the water anytime soon!

It didn’t matter to Sam; He would wait forever for Robin. He just knew that he knew and when it came down to it, Robin was the only reason that Sam went to Broken Lives. Broken Lives was a unique recovery program that had found its way into every Christian church in the country. It was similar to the AA program but had nine steps. Rob Landon, a renowned pastor and author from Bridal Ridge Christian Church in northern California had developed the program. It was a revolutionary new approach to healing broken lives that was almost an epidemic in society as a whole and eroding even into the church. Every church in the nation used the same material and Broken Lives was very proud of the fact that any person could go into any church in the country that was in “the program” and the material and the curriculum would be identical. No other material was permitted to be introduced so that Broken Lives would maintain its successful reputation. Bridal Ridge Christian Church was one of the largest churches in the nation and every Christian had heard of Rob Landon. He had written a book called “A Well Designed Life” for a teaching tool that many pastors used in almost every church and bible study group in the nation. In an interview Rob Landon had humbly reported that A Well Designed Life was said to be the most printed Christian books second only to the bible. Rob Landon had become a household sensation overnight and had speaking engagements globally with some of the most influential people in the world. His church at Bridal Ridge supplied all of the printed materials for Broken Lives distributed to all of the churches nationwide and the income from his book had blessed his community church to the point that they could afford to purchase a Lear Jet and an on staff pilot to fly him to all of his speaking engagements. The structured Church program that he had created was so successful that it grew Bridal Ridge Christian Church into one of the most prosperous churches in the country. He began teaching other pastors how to use the same concept curriculum and material that he used at Bridal Ridge to make them just as successful. It was almost like a well-designed business plan that was proven to be prosperous.

At the end of the Broken Lives program Robin finally agreed to go have coffee with Sam. The rest was history. Sam was so thankful for Broken Lives Recovery Fellowship.

Ben was almost up the hill. Sam shouted down to him “Did you find the bird?” Marty hearing Sam’s voice, headed up to him at a run. Ben held up two birds proudly. “Yes and then some!” he replied with a huge grin across his face. Sam stood up and moved over on the rock he was sitting on to make room for Ben to sit.

Suddenly a large orange dog intercepted Marty rolling him over in the snow. Sam turned around to see Cory working his way along the base of the bluff.

“How did you do?” Sam yelled.

“I got a couple.” Cory responded “Man, I sure got into a lot of birds but my shotgun must be off!” he said smiling.

“Ya these little rockets are hard to hit! Are you ready to eat lunch?”

“Yes, I am” Cory said setting his shotgun against a rock and removing his pack. “Wow, this is a nice little spot! The wind isn’t blowing in here at all!”

“I know, isn’t it?” Sam said.

Ben was already eating his sandwich and chips with Marty at his feet looking up at him intently. “Mom, wrote me a note.” He said smiling.

Sam and Cory looked over at Ben holding up a small bag of Fritos. On the wrapper in black permanent marker it read.

 

Hope your having a good day!

I love you Ben!

Mom

 

Cory smiling said “That momma loves her son!”

Sam pulled out his sandwich and looked at his bag of chips. There was no note on it. “Yes she does!” he agreed.

Cory unwrapped several pieces of chicken from aluminum foil that he had bought from the store and was eating baked beans out of a plastic container with a white plastic fork.

“How’s it going with Monica?” Sam asked.

“Pretty good. We have been going out over for over a year now and she wants to get married.” Cory said and tossing the skin of the chicken to his dog who caught it nosily.

“As you should! Make an honest woman of her.” Sam replied.

“Ya, I don’t know… her kids and are almost grown but she doesn’t bring much to the table and has nothing to speak of really. My business is doing well right now and I am putting a lot of money in the bank. I have my retirement all set up, you know? What if we get married and it doesn’t work out? Then she takes half of my income. I don’t want to take a hit like that at my age.”

Listening, Sam took a bite of his sandwich. As he bit down the texture didn’t feel right and he took the sandwich out of his mouth looking at it. There was something in between the two pieces of lunchmeat. He reached in and pulled a small piece of paper out between them. Written in smeared blue pen was a note that he read to himself:

 

Thanks for being a great husband!

I love you honey!

 with a smiley face.

 

 

Ben started rocking back and forth laughing, slapping his knee. Corey and Sam joined in. “Your mom is something else!” Sam said to Ben.

After lunch they agreed to hunt a small circle back to the truck. Ben’s knee was starting to hurt a little and Sam didn’t want him overdoing it. When they reached the truck Cory had picked up a couple more birds and Sam had got one more.

Sam decided to gut the birds while Cory was loading up his dog. Ben helped him remove the feathers and put the cleaned birds in a couple of gallon Ziploc bags that Sam always kept in the truck.

“Can you wash them and clean them real good for your mom when we get home?” Sam asked Ben._MG_7803

Ben nodded his head “Yes sir, I will!”

Sam ruffle his hair and said “Thanks, son.”

It didn’t take long before Ben was asleep in the back seat of the truck. Sam looked at him through the rear view window and smiled. Marty was asleep right next to him.

“I don’t know what to tell you Cory. I know for me, my family is my greatest asset and I would take them over all of the money in the world. It is a pretty lonely life with just you and your money”

“ I know all too well Sam.”

 

Chapter Two

A column of smoke rolled out of the stone chimney cascading to the ground before disintegrating in the strong east wind across the pasture. When Sam turned the corner onto the long lane the three cows in the pasture lifted their heads to greet him. Even though he was an hour early the site of the gray three quarter ton Ford coming down the lane rang the dinner bell for them and they ran alongside the fence throwing their heads up bucking and bawling. Suddenly, aware of the cow’s commotion Marty the family’s Australian Shepherd tore out of the barn barking and intercepting the cows sending them running towards the barn.

Marty wriggled a greeting from every part of his body as Sam stepped out of the truck. “Hey you old hound!” Sam greeted him. Sam could hear an axe come down hard on a round of lodge pole pine in the barn. Grabbing his dented and rusty lunch box he slipped on his jacket and headed in towards the sound of splitting wood, with Marty leading the way.wood pile_1

“Hey Dad!” Ben and Erica said simultaneously.

“Hey guys, how was your day?” Sam replied.

Ben put down the splitting maul with a heavy sigh and Erica greeted Sam with a warm hug.

“Okay”, Ben replied wiping sweat from his brow “We’re stocking up the wood box.”

Keeping the wood box filled was one of Ben’s chores. It made Sam happy to see his older sister helping him. Her little brother missed her since she had moved away to begin college. The separation had been good for them, Christmas break had rekindled their relationship.

“How are you doing, young lady?” Sam said with his arm still around his daughter. He was proud of her for what she had accomplished in college. She was taking a full load of classes in line for a degree in veterinary medicine. She was much like her mother, Robin. When she set her mind to do something it was better to get out of the way. School was an obstacle that needed to be accomplished in order to acquire her goal. She had graduated at the top of her class, being awarded the Valedictorian for Centerville High Class of 2013.

“It was a good day! I helped mom take down the Christmas tree, just finished feeding the chickens and decided to work out a bit helping Ben with his chores.” she said while dramatically lifting her arm to show off her lack of muscles. She was wearing her mom’s coat to do the chores; he smiled noticing how much she had grown, still, Robin’s coat fit her loosely.

Maggie at the feeder

Maggie at the feeder

“Did you get any eggs?” Sam asked. “Nope. They’re still not laying.” She said picking up a split chunk of wood and tossing it into the wheelbarrow”

“Hmmm, must be the short days or maybe they sense this storm coming. The way that wind is blowing out of the east it’s going to be a pretty good storm. You might want to make sure we have extra wood stockpiled on the deck just in case we get dumped on tonight.”

One of the cows bellered from over by the feeding stanchion. “I’ll be there in a minute! “ Sam retorted.

“Where’s your mom?” Sam asked Erica.

“She’s in the house. She made something special for you!” Erica said teasingly.

“Oh”? Sam said turning towards the house. “For me?”

Even though the tree had been taken down it still smelled like Christmas in the large log house. Robin had spent hours in the kitchen baking for Christmas and enjoying her time with Erica. Baking and being in the kitchen was something they both shared together. Erica and Robin had talked nearly non-stop since she’d returned from school, Erica informing her mom about all the details that she hadn’t shared throughout the semester. Robin informed Sam of all the pertinent extras later in the evening before they went to sleep. Erica had needed to leave for school in order for the mother daughter relationship to develop to the next level, which he could now see was that of cherished friend. The season of absence had been rough for Robin and she was very grateful to have Erica home.

Robin looked up from the sink when the door opened and Sam came in. There was something about a barefoot woman in an apron in the kitchen Sam thought to himself. He wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with food or not but he was sure it had something to do with Robin wearing that apron. Robin loved the heated tile floors where she could go barefoot even in the winter and she always had her toenails exquisitely painted.

Sam casually looked around the room for what Robin might have made for him but the granite island where the sink was and the surrounding countertops were bare, tidy and cleaned. Everything was in its place. Nothing was baking in oven, stove-top, or the microwave, nor was there anything setting out in the open to cool. The table was set for dinner with red and white checkered cloth napkins and brilliant white china plates with an embossed floral design around the outside. The center piece of Ponderosa pine needles remained the same with two red candles and a taller white one in the center. As always, her decor perfectly placed. Each season appropriately defined, the centerpiece complimented the Christmas table cloth that draped over the long wooden farm table. All Sam could smell was cinnamon, pine and Christmas; nothing that might give the surprise away.

“Hi” Sam said putting his lunch pail on the end of the counter.

Drying her hands with a towel she walked towards him with a smile on her face. “What are you looking for Sam?” she said with a big smile.

“I think I found her!” he replied, embracing her fully. He held her tight rocking back and forth, taking in the gentle scent of her soft fragrance. She closed her eyes lost in the embrace while he looked over her shoulder for anything that would reveal what Erica was talking about. The combination of her body close to him and the lingering perfume that she wore overtook him evaporating the surprise.

 

Marty, took the small piece of elk gristle politely from Sam’s hand.

“Dad, you’re not supposed to feed the dog at the dinner table” Erica scolded while passing out the chocolate pie Robin had made for dessert.

He glanced up at Robin and she gave him a stern look from directly across the table. A hint of a dimple line appeared in the corner of her mouth revealing that the depth of her visual reprimand was more for the kid’s sake.

Chocolate pie was Sam’s favorite dessert and he savored the first bite dramatically moaning with delight.

“I ran into Cory at work today” Sam said. “He wants to go chukar hunting this weekend.”

“In this weather? Go ahead, you’re going to freeze!” Robin replied.

Ben interrupted enthusiastically “Can I go?”

“Sure, if you want to” said Sam “Cory has a new bird dog. He wants to see how good his nose is. We’ll probably be leaving early so don’t stay out all night Saturday”

“Susan is still over in Oregon at her grandmother’s house so I am free!” Ben was anxious to get out of the house since Susan left. It had been a long Christmas for him having his girlfriend away.

The couple had been going out for over a year. She and her mother, Heidi, had gone to Bend, Oregon to spend Christmas with Heidi’s mom. Heidi’s dad had passed away earlier that fall and this would be their first Christmas without her dad. Heidi hadn’t wanted her mom to be alone for the holidays so had opted to make the drive over the snow covered roads.

Robin, now visibly annoyed asked, “You’re going Sunday? Why don’t you go on Saturday? I cannot believe that you’re going to miss church again this week, you’ve missed the last two Sundays!”

“I know, honey, but Cory has to work on Saturday and it’s the last weekend of hunting season.” Sam said patting Marty on the head.

“No, it’s about priorities, Sam!” Robin got up and started clearing the table, lips pursed.

Sam scooted out his chair, picked up his plate and silverware taking them to the sink. Robin’s back was facing Sam and he ran his hand down the outside of her arm. Robin tensed at the touch.

“Hey “, Sam whispered, his voice cracked unintentionally. She turned towards him enough for her to see his face.

“What kind of message are you sending the kids?” She whispered. He could see the bottom of her eye was filling with a tear. He wiped it away with his calloused thumb.

“One more weekend and you have me all winter. I promise” She tentatively turned to him and smiled, but the concerned look in her eye sent the message directly. “Okay.” she breathed in clearing her runny nose.

Sam leaned over and to give her a kiss on the cheek. She pulled back saying “I’ll have your lunch packed for you. Do you want lunch-meat or tuna fish sandwiches?”

“Lunch-meat would be awesome, honey.” Wrapping one arm around her waist and pulling her close he said, “Thanks for the chocolate pie!”

Leaning back she wiped soap bubbles on his face and then kissed him.

Erica and Ben brought their dishes over and put them in the sink. Ben tugged on Erica’s hair and Erica’s slugged Ben. “Ow! Geez, Erica that hurt!”

Sam laughed at Ben “You better not mess with your sister Ben. She can handle her own!” Erica was a sophomore at the community college in Nampa. Last semester, before Christmas break, she had taken a course in self-defense at her parent’s suggestion. Sam noticed that the classes made a positive impact on her self-esteem. She was not the timid, slender girl she was in high school. He was glad to see that; she had her mom’s looks although his darker hair. Sam had seen the way boys, and even men looked at her. It riled him inside and he fought the urge to say something. He was proud of her, but also protective. Her new found confidence assured him.

In her first year of college Erica had started a college-age bible study at the local church she was attending. She was faithful to lead the study every Tuesday night, even though it was one more thing on her plate. The bible study started with just a handful of friends getting together but word had spread of the group and numbers increased to over twenty five, a majority being freshmen. Erica had mentioned to Robin how rapidly the group had grown. Robin wanted to see Erica in action so decided to visit the group one evening during fall semester, she relayed to Sam how Erica had deeply impressed her. She was a powerful speaker and connected well with her peers. They respected her. When she spoke she was not the girl that they had raised. She was dynamic and filled with the Spirit.