Chapter Twenty Two

Marty barked excitedly running scattering the chickens in their pen around the barn out to the driveway looking down the road. Sam stepped out of the barn just as Erica’s silver Honda turned the corner from the county road a quarter mile away. Marty barked, running in circles looking at the car and then back at Sam. Marty knew the sound of everyone’s rig and he was the official welcoming committee. He was not allowed to run out and greet anyone down the lane as they drove up and had been taught to wait until they got out of the rig before he approached the car. So he sat on his wiggling butt in great anticipation. When she opened the door he met her with a surge of dog love. “Hi Marty! I missed you too!” Erica said as she wrapped her arms around him.

“Hi honey, you’re home a day early?” Sam asked.

“Oh, I talked to my professors to see if I could skip tomorrow so I could go to the women’s conference at church with Mom and Linda. Mom bought me a ticket just in case I could get off. I sure don’t want to waste her money! Meadow Song is going to be playing there!” She said with excitement. “Can you believe it? Mom was saying that there has been such a surge in ticket sales to attend this surprise concert Pastor Mike moved the conference to the church’s auditorium.”

“Hmmm… really?” Sam thought back to his last conversation with Pastor Mike and getting enough funding for the parking lot and expansion project. I see what he is up to! He thought to himself. Robin had mentioned the upcoming women’s conference and he had made tentative plans with Corey to take a small excavator and Bobcat out to the property to work for the entire weekend provided the deal closed by Friday. It was conditional though. Robin told Sam that sometime over the weekend he needed to talk to Corey about Monica about their living accommodations. Sam reluctantly agreed. He felt that it really wasn’t his business to tell Corey how to live his life. Robin had argued that it was biblical, that an elder should go talk to Corey, and Monica should not be in a leadership position and living like this. If Corey didn’t adhere to the warning then a group of men from the church needed to talk to him, and if Cory still didn’t take action, then he would not be allowed back in the church. Robin had brought up the fact that Cory and Monica’s actions had even justified Ben’s recent change in direction and ultimately his walk with the Lord. Ben was a sensitive subject and the conversation petered out at the mention of his name. Ben’s disrespect towards his family still disturbed Sam. “I need to go check on the cows and calves”, which usually meant that he needed to go out to the barn and process everything. Sam had just walked into the barn when Marty’ announced Erica’s arrival.

After giving his daughter a hug and a kiss on the forehead, Erica popped open the trunk. Sam grabbed Erica’s suitcase out of the trunk and was following her into the house when his phone buzzed in his back pocket. Setting her suitcase down, he answered, “Hello?”

“Hey Sam, this Sheila at Valley Title Company. We have received notice that the owners in China have signed paperwork for the Jaykee Creek property. It looks like I will have everything ready by the end of the day today and you and your wife can sign the paperwork first thing tomorrow. There isn’t any reason why it can’t be recorded by noon”.

“Wow! You do very good work! I was skeptical whether you would be able to pull this off!”

“Yes, this isn’t normal but we do a lot of work with your lawyer and he is very good. I also wanted to tell you that everyone here at the office was very impressed with you and your wife and your offer to that missionary family. That was another reason why we were able to get this done so quickly. When we heard about your kindness and hearing of that little girl needed the money to get treatment, we all wanted to contribute something too, so we worked late last night to get this done for them”.

“Well thank you!” Sam replied.

“In fact,” she continued, “when your lawyer mentioned that you were also wiring an additional twenty five hundred dollars to help them, one of our girls here at the office approached the corporate office to see if they would match your generosity”.

“Oh wow! That was nice of her!”

“Yes,” she continued. “This is so crazy! The secretary she spoke with at the corporate office in New York happens to be a relation to the cousin of one of the missionaries. Their family has not been able to touch base with them because of the lack of internet access and phone service where they live is so unreliable.”

“Yes, we have had that problem communicating with them too.” Sam said. “It truly is a miracle that we were able to get this contract signed.”

Sheila continued, “Sam, the corporate office decided to double your contribution and fly the little girl and her family to Singapore for medical treatment”.

Sam stood there stunned, “You’re kidding me?”

“No, I am not!”

Sam remembered the note in the glass bottle up on the barren windswept hill buried under the rocks of the corner post for who knows how many years: And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Sam hurried into the house opening the door he hollered, “Robin! You are not going to believe this!”

Chapter Eleven

Sam’s phone vibrated on the desk making him jump, “Hey Sam, this is Mike can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Oh, hey Pastor Mike what’s up?” Sam got up and closed the door to his office.

“I was just checking on that parking lot paving and expansion project for the church.” Pastor Mike Johnson replied.

He, Sam and Cory had all met the previous month to come up with an affordable way to pave the existing parking lot and expansion to accommodate for new growth in the church. With growth came complaints, one of which was adequate parking. Folks just didn’t like walking through mud puddles in their Sunday clothes.

“Yup, I met with Cory yesterday to put together the proposal. I have it right here in front of me. I was just about to send it over to you.”

“Awesome Sam, what is the cost for the church?”

“Well, Pastor Mike, you really should see the breakdown of time and materials to really grasp the cost of this.”

“You’re scaring me Sam. Can’t you just tell me over the phone?”

“I sure can Mike” Sam replied “It looks like the total will be $56,800.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone.

“Hello? Mike? Are you there?”

“Yeah Sam, I am here. How are we going to pay for this Sam?”

“Well,” Sam said clearing his voice “I believe that if God is behind this whole expansion project then He will provide for it won’t He? I think you need to announce this to the congregation and tell them we need to raise the extra money. Ask them to commit over and above their tithes as an act of faith.”

“Sam, tithes are down. People are struggling to making ends meet and they definitely do not want to hear that the church needs more money. The tithes we are getting barely pay my salary and the operating costs of the church. We cannot even afford to help the missions this month, not to mention the government is threatening to take away our 501C3 nonprofit status unless I conform to their guidelines.”

“What? What are you talking about Mike?”

“Yea, I got a letter the other day laying out what I can and cannot preach about. They say if I preach about homosexuality and this transgender thing they will remove our not for profit status. If we lose that and people do not get their tax deductions we will no longer get the tithes we need to operate. I have no other choice but to comply.”

Sam couldn’t believe what he was hearing and said. “Well, I say God is bigger than that. Surely the congregation would continue to tithe whether they got a tax deduction or not.”

Pastor Mike responded “I am just not sure that is something I am willing to put to the test Sam. Maybe we can come up with another way to raise some money. One thing is certain we need the parking lot to bring in more people and that will bring in more tithes. It is simple math.“

“Well” Sam said, “I am sure God will work this thing out Mike”

“I hope so Sam, I sure hope so. Thanks for getting me the bid.

Pastor Mike hung up with a big sigh. “Well we are not going to make that kind of money doing a car wash that’s for sure.“ he said out loud.

“Katie the church secretary had been listening in to the conversation.

” Pastor Mike?” she asked from the office just outside.

“Yes Katie?”

“I didn’t mean to listen in on your conversation but your door was open and well I couldn’t help it. I was kind of thinking, maybe we could get someone to come in and put a concert together? Maybe we could sell tickets.”

“Yeah, we could do that” he said his voice trailing off. She knew that he was brushing her off by agreeing with her but what he didn’t know was that she had a connection. Her girlfriend’s sister was getting married in a month and one of the singers of Meadow Song was going to be a groomsman at the wedding. She had dated him back in the day before he had gotten all famous. Travis had contacted her for a date at the wedding but she had turned him down. The group had planned to do a surprise appearance for his bachelor party. Just maybe, she wondered, they could be persuaded to do a small parking lot fund raiser. She looked on the calendar and noticed that it coincided with a women’s conference that was being held at the church the Friday before the wedding. Her wheels started turning.

He had given her his number in the event she changed her mind and well, maybe her mind could be changed!

After the conversation Sam sat at his desk, stunned by Pastor Mikes suggestions. He had to tell Robin about this as he reached for the phone.

“That explains why the sermons have been so watered down lately. Pastor Mike doesn’t want to offend anyone or they will not get the tithes to operate the church!” Robin remarked in furry.

“Heidi was right! Seven Mile is just like all the other churches in the valley, watering down the messages to bring in the people. It all comes down to money just like everything else in the world. That’s what they called it tickling the people’s ears in the bible Sam!”

After Sam hung up Robin stewed over their conversation the rest of the afternoon. Pastors have stopped delivering sermons on the book of Revelation and end time prophecies because they didn’t want their churches labeled as a doom and gloom church. If they mentioned money heaven forbid they were money hungry. Congregations wanted to hear how much God loved and forgave them not about sin and the consequences of sin. They were completely compromising the word just as the bible said would happen in end times.

Robin called Heidi to confirm coffee on Saturday.

Chapter Nine

Ben came dancing in the kitchen and put his arm around his mom who was layering lasagna noodles in a large glass pan.

“What are you so happy about?”

“Susan is home! Mom, it has been such a long vacation.” He said dramatically.

“I know it has been honey. Why don’t you ask her and her mom over to dinner tonight? We are going to have lasagna and I made too many noodles so we will have more than enough to eat.”

Ben went across the granite island where she was working and sat down texting Susan on his phone. Within seconds a beep came in with a response.

“What time mom?” Ben asked.

“How about 6:30, your dad won’t be here until 6 or so.”

Robin texted Sam and asked him to pick up some garlic spread for the French bread and let him know that they would be having Susan and her mom Heidi for dinner.

Sam and Robin had met Heidi when they had all gone to Broken Lives Fellowship group. She had a nasty breakup with her ex-husband had a difficult time trusting anyone since. She had dated often earlier but it was too hard to find a Christian man that truly walked the walk. She had come to the point where she was tired of compromising and stopped dating.

Before Sam and Robin had married, Robin and Heidi were very close. They had since drifted apart but still remained friends. Heidi was now attending another church in town so they didn’t see each other as much. It would be fun to catch up with her.

Lasagne_0894_1When they arrived Heidi was very impressed with the lasagna cooling on the granite counter top. Erica was putting the final touches to the table setting on the long farm table. She had changed the Christmas centerpiece with some fresh flowers that she had picked up from the store earlier. Sam, Ben and Susan were out doing the chores so the girls sat and visited.

Heidi was very excited about her trip to Oregon. She had an opportunity to attend a revival concert that Meadow Song was playing in at a friend’s Community Church in northern California. Meadow Song was one of the most popular Christian groups in the country. They traveled globally to bring Christian music to the world. Heidi expressed how exciting it was to see so many Christians at the revival reaching out to the Muslim community and the Mother of the Apostles Church. To see them all come together praising God was very emotional. Heidi commented about the stirring message that the pastor of the large Christian Church gave. He had called everyone together to embrace each other’s differences and pray to God together. She was especially touched by the depth of love that the most holy appointed Bishop from Mother of Apostles gave to him afterwards by kissing his feet. What humility. They had offered an alter call at the end and hundreds of people came forward to be saved. It was one of Heidi’s most moving experiences ever.

What Heidi was saying stirred Robin’s spirit and she asked Heidi,

“Do you think that they were all praising the same God?”

“Of course they were!” Heidi said.

“Hmmm. Well that just doesn’t make sense to me; I am not sure how that can be possible. Muslims consider Jesus to be a prophet, not God and the Mother of Apostles pray to Mary to intercede to Jesus and the Bishop is given the power to forgive of sins through penance usually by how much they give financially and the charity given. That is works and implys that Jesus dying on the cross was in vain. That makes me curious about this.” Robin wondered out loud.

“Well I am pretty sure they were praising the same God. I mean I assume they were… “ Heidi said. “But I sure see what you mean when you say it like that.”

“ And the Bishop was kissing the pastor’s feet?… That is just not right.” Robin said. “That just gives me a wrong feeling inside.”

“Well he did say before he did that how he wanted to wash that pastors feet but because they didn’t have any water on stage he was going to offer him humility by kissing his feet instead.” Heidi said.

Marty came in barking excited to see everyone in the kitchen. That was his favorite place and with all of the people there it ensured him some scraps afterwards. Sam, Ben and Susan all hung up their coats and removed their muddy boots in the mudroom and joined the girls in the kitchen. Sam and Ben relished Robin’s lasagna and even though the first serving was enough they had to have another helping. It was only right.

After supper they were so full that they both needed to go outside and check on the cows to walk off some of the lasagna. After clearing the table Susan and Erica both joined them. The night was clear and cold and the skies were filled with stars. There was no moon and the Milkey Way lit up sky like a highway from one end of the horizon to the other. Marty stared out into the darkness beyond the where barn light reached growling a warning when a coyote howled answered by another. The scent of worn leather hit their noses walking through the barn past the tack room. Erica’s gelding nickered upon hearing her voice and she stopped to rub his nose. One of the cows was still eating on the remainder of the hay left in the feeder while the other two drank noisily out of the water trough.

Sam and the kids all leaned up against the rail fence looking out into the back pasture. Ben and Susan were whispering and giggling, happy to be back in each other’s company.

Night sky_140908_0072_1“Back to school” Erica said

“Yup” Sam replied. Both of them stared at the incredible display of stars across the sky. Marty stood on his back legs between the two of them with his front legs on the second rail nudging Erica’s arm.

“It sure was a good Christmas with you here honey” Sam said to Erica.

“I know Daddy” she said and leaned her head against his shoulder. He put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. She felt safe and he felt like his little girl was leaving forever.

Heidi helped Robin clear the rest of the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Heidi shared with Robin about the rest of their trip to Oregon and how her mom was dealing with life now that her dad had passed away. Robin listened but was still processing what Heidi had said earlier. When they had finished tidying up everything they both sat down at the kitchen table drinking coffee. Heidi looked at Robin seriously and asked her.

“You seemed concerned about that revival thing I was telling you about. Are you seeing something there that I don’t see?”

“I don’t know for sure but I think it might be something we need to look into Heidi. Things are changing rapidly in the world right now and something inside of me is telling me to pay.”

“I have been noticing that too Robin.”

“How is your church? Do you like it?” Robin asked.

“Well, I am searching for a new church right now.” Heidi said “It is so hard to find one anymore that teaches the truth. I really like when the message on Sunday makes you think all week. Sometimes a convicting message is a very good thing. It is like pastors are compromising, preaching a watered down message. “

“It is funny you say that Heidi. I was thinking the same thing after church last Sunday. It is like Pastor Mike is too concerned about offending anyone like if he offends someone with the message it will adversely affect the incoming tithes or attendance!”

Everyone came in through the mudroom laughing. Marty ran in and greeted Robin and Heidi. They both stood up and Heidi gave Robin a hug and said “We need to do this more often.” Robin agreed and walked Heidi to the door. Sam, Robin and Erica stood at the back door watching Heidi and Susan load up into the red Dodge Ram. Ben was over at the driver’s side of the truck saying good bye to Susan. Suddenly Robin ran over to the passenger side of the truck motioning Heidi to roll down the window. “Let’s get together one of these Saturday’s for coffee.” Heidi grabbed Robins hand and agreed over the rattling of the diesel motor.