Mount Hope

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9

For several miles while driving along dirt roads the Jaspers enjoyed seeing beautiful fields of wheat waving in the breeze. Driving with GPS had directed them to a certain point, but after turning onto county road rusty recollections were their guide. In search of Oldfather Lake–familiar landscape awakened memories of family gatherings there–fishing, swimming and lighting fireworks. They noticed the old Johnson’s store was gone, but not the memory of riding a three-wheeler there to get resupplied with snacks and fish bate.

Cornelius Jasper, called Jas by friends and family, had often thought of Oldfather Lake while working, hammering out framework for a new house. He enjoyed building houses, but daydreamed about retirement and all the “fun” things he would do and going back to Oldfather Lake was at the top of the list. He hadn’t been there since the summer of high-school graduation and then his family moved away from the area, but according to his daydream Oldfather Lake had remained the same.

Now almost fifty years later this was his adventure–a quest to revisit the lake of his childhood. Jas wasn’t sure what he would find left from his memories. Secretly, he had hoped that the lake would be exactly the same, but with everything else in the world changing, it wasn’t likely. Even so, he was confident that he could at least walk around the lake.

If he could just find it.

As the trees along one side of the road became denser his excitement grew upon remembering the lake had been surrounded by trees. He instructed, Junia, his wife to look for side roads in the trees while he kept his eyes on the road.

Junia grimaced anticipating her husband’s disappointment. “Hate to tell you, but we already passed a side road a short time ago.”

As expected, Jas’ excitement turned to exasperation, expressed with his usual low mumbled grumbling. “Smack-a-doodle! How far back?”

“Ohm…it was…soon after this wind-break of trees started back there along the road.”

“Don’t look at me! Keep your eyes on the trees. If we don’t see any more roads coming up, we’ll turn back.”

Just as Jas turned his eyes back to the road he saw two deer run out from a corn field and across the road in front of them. He stepped hard on the brakes–everything in their laps toppled onto the floor and the thrust forward brought Jas’ head to the steering wheel causing a small bump to his head. “Smack-a-doodle…those dastardly doomfawds!

Junia quietly picked up everything off the floor of the car. She smiled to let Jas know that she was alright. Early in their 43 years of marriage she had learned to keep quiet when Jas was upset. He was just a big, old, teddy bear–a good man, but at times he had steam to vent–not with violent rage or vengeance, but making his disappointment known. She had tried to point out that anger and cursing is ungodly. However, he corrected her, saying the Bible says it’s okay to be angry if you don’t sin. His angry words were not bad curse words, but his “homemade” words–made up words for venting. She had accepted his explanation, praying her husband would also find the other scriptures about forgiveness and patience.

After a few wrong turns and backtracking Jas relaxed–relieved to finally see a sign stating:

One mile to Oldfather Lake.

Trees were thicker than he had remembered and the bridge over a small creek now had a gate across the entrance with a chain lock. Jas was disappointed beyond words as he read the sign posted on the gate.

Private Property. No trespassing.

Quietly he got out of the car to get a closer look. Below the sign was a letter from a law firm encased in plexi-glass. Jas read the letter and turned to Junia who was now beside him reading it too. The letter announced that the property was for sale and bids were being accepted.

“Jun get your phone and take a picture of this or write down the address and phone number. We may want it later.”

Jas went back to the car and retrieved his binoculars from the trunk. At least he wanted to see the lake.

But the trees were too thick to see the lake area. Next he pulled on his wading boots, carefully descended down the creek bank and walked across the shallow stream.

Junia gasped. “Jas you’re trespassing!”

However, his adventurous spirit overrode any caution while he climbed up the bank on the other side and walked a little further down the road.

Junia prayed, Lord have mercy. Her mind flooded with visions of wild animals and hunters with rifles. Then she thanked God when seeing him on the way back. Now safely in front of her she could see he wasn’t sad anymore. Instead his eyes sparkled like a little boy with a new toy.

“I could see the lake. The cabins are gone, but there’s a beautiful two-story house, a gazebo and a little bridge over a small stream…”

Junia, pleased to hear her husband’s excitement, laughed a smile. “I took a picture of the letter and wrote down the address and phone number.”

Jas quickly kissed her and then hung his head in disgrace. “Sorry, I got upset earlier. I’m working on it.” Then he sighed as he pulled off the wading boots. “Don’t think we’ll be doing any fishing today.”

Quietly she sighed a sigh of relief. “It’s okay. We’ll just go on to the next place you have mapped out.”

“First, if you have signal on your phone, call the number on the letter. Let’s see if we can get someone to come out here and show us the house.”

“What? Are you thinking of buying it?”

“Maybe. You never know. For some reason, I just have to see it…I feel like we’re here for a reason…not sure what it is…but you know what I mean.”

“Well no…but this is an adventure…so let’s see…I do have signal…where’s that number? Here it is. Dialing.” Someone answered so she handed the phone to Jas.

“Hello…this is Cornelius Jasper. I’m out at the Oldfather Lake property you have for sale…Is there anyone who could come out here while we’re here and show us the house and tell us more about it?”

The secretary put Jas on hold while checking. After a few minutes the secretary came back to the phone and said the farmer who lives down the road could be there in about an hour. They agreed to wait.

The Jaspers rejoiced in God’s providence–they had prepared a picnic lunch that morning before getting on the road. Under a canopy of trees along the side of the road they laid a blanket and after a light lunch of sandwiches and snacks Junia knew that old teddy bear would soon be napping. Leaning back against the tree trunk she prayed with her eyes open while waiting for Farmer Johnson to arrive. With delight she praised God for his beautiful creation as she watched a butterfly and a bumble bee flitting from flower to flower.

Soon the sound of a truck with a loud muffler alarmed them. Quickly, they stood to see a short, stocky elderly man with overalls and a wide-brimmed hat climb out of a monster truck.

Farmer Johnson was warm and friendly, as if the Jaspers were family coming for Sunday dinner. “Sorry it took so long to get here…My truck wouldn’t start…Had to hunt down the keys to my grandson’s truck. He races it! But I get to store it in my barn. Lucky me!”

Jas shook hands with his new friend. “Quite alright. We’ve enjoyed a picnic here in the beautiful trees!”

After introductions, Jas, radiant with joy, thought his new friend in a wide-brimmed hat seemed like someone he’d enjoy fishing with and Junia, quietly tickled with delight, watched her husband’s adventure unfold.

Farmer Johnson unlocked the gate and suggested they drive around the lake and then up to the house for a look inside. Jas offered his car and off they went. Amazed at the lake, Jas thought it even more beautiful than he had remembered–Willow trees along the bank, with flowering Myrtle and evergreen trees, and then he noticed the dock. “Is the lake still stocked with fish?”

“It sure is…favorite place to fish. My son and grandson come out here every summer.”

“Used to be my favorite place too…used to come here with my family every summer when I was younger. Haven’t been here for a very long time…but who lived here…why is it for sale?”

“That’s a secret. The man who lived here was a recluse…he was famous. Decided he just wanted privacy and peace, so he came here…lived here for about 25 years…recently he passed away. He had the house built and landscaped before moving out here. Occasionally, he went for short trips to visit family or friends or they came out here to visit.”

Slowly they drove up a driveway that curved along the front entrance to a magnificent house sitting high on a hill of evergreen grass adorned by the simple beauty of one large oak tree sprawling over a rock garden. Behind the house on one side, a narrow cobbled stone road led down to the lake. On the other side a garden with a gazebo in the center and nearby a small stream with a bridge over it. The house was, as Junia said, “a manly design.” Oak wall paneling, book cases, lots of book cases, leather furniture and stone floors with a fireplace in every room. Even all four bedrooms on the second floor had a very small corner fireplace.

Jas loved the family room area with plush pillow couches and game tables, but Junia’s favorite part of the house, of course, was the kitchen. “I could live in this kitchen!”

On the north end of the kitchen a stone wall with an old fashioned stone-hearth fireplace provided warmth to diners at an oversized oak table. For a few moments she sat in an oak rocking chair in the corner and imagined popping corn in the iron kettle over a blazing fire. An oak island with a grill filled the center of the room and behind a restaurant style refrigerator and stovetop. She opened a side door, thinking it was a closet, but it was a small room–a maid’s quarters. Just as she was wondering why someone living by himself would want such a huge kitchen, Farmer Johnson explained that the owner had designed the house to become a bed and breakfast inn–easier to sell if he decided to move.

The Jaspers thanked Farmer Johnson for the tour, not asking how to bid, thinking it was far beyond their budget.

But before climbing up into the monster truck, Farmer Johnson turned back and gave Jas a business card and encouraged him to submit a bid. “Only requirement is an essay about what you plan to do with the property.”

The Jaspers grinned, numb with wonder. “We’ll certainly consider it. Pray about it. For now it’s back to the road trip.”

“Sounds intriguing–where you headed?”

“Cherokee country!” Briefly, Jas explained his adventure before farewells, waving as they drove off.

“Cherokee country here we come.”

The wonder of Oldfather Lake, temporarily, faded to the back of Jas’ mind while he pressed on to the next phase of the “adventure.” He had been planning this road trip for a long time, visiting his family’s place of origin, his Cherokee Indian heritage.

The Cherokees were one of many Indian tribes from the Appalachians area of America, where what is now western South Carolina and North Carolina, northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee. From around 1776 to 1781, after several failed raids against pioneer settlers and giving up land in peace treaties the Cherokee began to assimilate into the settler culture, developing colonial methods of farming, building homes and a tribal government. They developed their own Cherokee written language and even published a newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. Then in 1838 thousands of Cherokees were forced to leave their land in northern Georgia, which was valuable for its gold. The U.S. Government enforced the removal and in the process some resettled in North Carolina, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Many Cherokees died during the journey on foot, known in history as the Trail of Tears.1

Eventually, individuals, including Jas’ grandfather, Immookalee (meaning waterfall), along with changing their names to “American” names, were given their own section of land from within the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

Jas’ parents had moved away from the family land before he was born and recently a cousin had inherited it. Yet, his kindred connection and love for the outdoors–fishing, hunting and camping–inspired him to take a road trip along the same Trail of Tears as his ancestors had walked. He planned to back track along the trail, traveling from Oklahoma to Arkansas to Tennessee and then to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. As he had said many times when talking about the trip, “Wonderful fishing in all these places and what could be better than that, this side of heaven!”

He and Junia had planned the road trip to coincide with a family reunion being held that weekend on the family land in Oklahoma. He hoped for good weather since the gathering would be a campout and everyone would be sleeping in tents. He was looking forward to seeing cousins he hadn’t seen in many years and his own children and grandchild would be there too.

After an overnight stop to sleep at a hotel just off the highway they were back on the road again early in the morning after breakfast. They followed the detailed directions sent by his cousin Ben, which without they would have surely gotten lost. But even so, a few wrong turns happened just because they were taking in all the beauty of the countryside, grain fields, grasslands, ranches and lakes. Finally they arrived to the land and the campsite where Ben and Barbara were seated near the fire-pit tending to mesquite-smoked buffalo.

Ben, with his sense of humor, decided to have a little fun in his role as host of the reunion. As he escorted the Jaspers to their assigned tent, he pointed out the “facilities.”

“Thought nostalgia would be fun, so we set up an old-fashioned outhouse, downwind about 100 yards.”

And he chuckled while showing them a horse trough for bathing. “No, I will not be hauling water, but the garden hose is nearby.” Then he added with a grin, “If you’ve already had your Saturday bath then no need to use the trough. But no really, just kidding, you can use the shower in the house. And the bathroom too. All this is just for fun.”

Junia, not knowing Jas’ cousins very well, didn’t know what to think, but grinned while Jas chuckled and scratched his head as though it could help him remember. “The horse trough tub seems vaguely familiar…except for the garden hose. I think we just took turns bathing and used the same water.”

Inside the house, Ben and Barbara had family picture albums sitting out on the table. Pictures of the original house, grandpa with his horse and wagon and grandma with Jas and other baby cousins. While looking through old pictures and refreshing with iced tea, they got reacquainted with Ben and Barbara, their three sons and their wives, grandchildren and also cousins Jim and Ron, their wives and children. And within a few hours, the rest of the Jaspers arrived.

Junia ran out to the cars to greet everyone with Jas following close behind. Son John, his wife Lynette and their teenager, Jenna climbed out of the Jeep stretching and yawning–awakened and then laughing with joy from a Jas bear hug. Next in line for hugs was daughter Caitlin, her husband Ryan and their dog Rusty. John’s family from Colorado had met up with his sister, Caitlin and her family from Kansas, then the two families caravanned together along the highway to the family land in Oklahoma.

Everyone had fun exploring the countryside before settling down for the evening barbecue. Carefully, they walked across the cow pasture to take a hike along a little creek in the woods. After they crossed over the swinging bridge to look for deer, Jas called out, “Look out for rattle snakes!” The women screamed and turned back toward camp.

Ben placed lawn chairs around the campfire and then Barbara followed behind him to cushion each chair with a handmade quilt. Later, when seeing Jenna napping in a chair wrapped with the quilt around her shoulders, she was satisfied that she had made everyone comfortable.

Everyone relaxed by the fire, enjoying a leisurely dinner of smoked meats, salads, Indian bread, and desserts, including homemade ice-cream. Family members mingled and reminisced the past while they also talked about present trials, receiving the comfort that seemed to make up for lost time.

Jas and Junia’s daughter, Caitlin, privately shared a surprise with them. She planned to adopt a baby girl who was expected to be born in about two months. Caitlin and Ryan had been unable to have children of their own so they had decided to adopt. The adoption details were secret, and in addition, they hoped to adopt more babies from a similar situation in about six months.

With glowing smiles, the Jaspers expressed their happiness for another grandchild. Jas kept his concerns to himself, but Junia encouraged Caitlin and Ryan. “If God blesses you with rescuing children then we’re glad to support you as grandparents.”

As a mother, Junia encouraged her daughter while she quietly pondered any concerns. This was her way. From experience, she thought it better to keep quiet about news until after thoughtful reflection and prayer, than to blurt out comments or questions that could be hurtful or discouraging. And since Caitlin had said the adoption details were secret she didn’t pry, but offered to help…help with anything. She would share wisdom later, if needed, if asked.

A cool night breeze and the low hum of locusts induced peaceful sleep throughout the campsite, but by early morning, just after sunrise, everyone was startled awake by Ben starting up the fire-pit. He had brought out a large percolator of coffee, orange juice, donuts and a large platter of scrambled eggs with bacon. Also, a big bowl of sliced cantaloupe, fresh from his own garden. Then he threw a couple of sausage pizzas on the fire for the kids. And just in case the commotion and coffee aroma did not awaken everyone, he rang a cow bell.

While guests enjoyed breakfast he announced a worship service would begin in about an hour. “No need to change into your Sunday best, just come as you are. My sons and I, we’ll play guitar–sing a few hymns. I’m not a preacher, so I’ll spare you, but we’ll read some scriptures from the Bible. Then we’ll have a family prayer time. Cool?”

“Cool!” said Jenna. “Never been to church with pizza for breakfast.” And several others said a sleepy, “Amen.”

By mid-afternoon, after hugs, tears and promises to get together again soon, guests were back on the road again, each to different destinations, but for Jas and Junia they resumed their journey through the Trail of Tears region. Backtracking the same trail as closely as possible with the next destination in the Ozarks of Arkansas to Lake Sequoyah for bass fishing. And then resting for a day at a beautiful lake home they had rented before going on to Greers Ferry Lake near Batesville, Arkansas.

Junia enjoyed fishing just as much as Jas but for different reasons. He fished for sport, the thrill of the catch. She loved the serenity and beauty of the lake and most of the time she quietly prayed and crocheted, because if she tried to talk much she would get shushed. Amazingly, this fishing trip, Jas seemed distracted. He would cast his lure, but instead of reeling in, he would sit with the line out in the water and talk. He talked about the reunion, his cousins, their kids and what in the world was Caitlin doing adopting…not just one, but many…they’re going to need some help with all that. The anticipation of it all seemed overwhelming to grandpa Jas.

After traveling on to Greers Ferry Lake, their hearts were quiet again. Jas focused on fishing and Junia prayed while she enjoyed the awesome beauty of the clear water lake guarded by towering rocky cliffs. Here they were mindful of God’s majestic presence.

On the morning of the last day at Greers Ferry, Jas decided to review the road map and make some changes when driving through Tennessee on the way to Fort Payne, Alabama. Fort Payne is where a group of Cherokee Indians, his ancestors, were held before being led out by John Benge2 toward Oklahoma. While he was studying the map, Caitlin called to talk with Junia. Jas could hear Junia’s side of the conversation, hearing enough to know plans had changed and Caitlin was upset. So he held off making any changes to their road trip until he could find out what was going on.

Junia sighed with sorrow after ending the call. “Caitlin says the mother of the baby they were planning to adopt has changed her mind. She’s keeping her baby. Caitlin says she’s happy for the mother, but sooo disappointed to not have a baby of her own.”

Jas made a big exaggerated frowny face. “Ah…me too…we too!”

Junia stared out the window for a moment with many perplexing thoughts going through her mind and then turned back to Jas who had gone back to mapping. “Wait, there’s more!”

Jas’ eyebrows arched as his eyes popped wide open and with his hand in a whirling motion to indicate–come on, out with the more. “And…?”

“Caitlin said their social worker suggested foster parenting. They have a family with three children who will need a foster home right away with another baby on the way…”

“Whoa! Is Caitlin going to do that?

“I don’t know…she wants us to pray about it…she sounded hopeful, but not sure…”

“Well, we know God knows what he’s doing…just hope Caitlin and Ryan know what they’re doing!”

“It’s good they’re taking time to think about it…pray about it. So let’s do that too.” Junia watched her old, big-bear husband carefully get down on his knees while he took her hand to join him in prayer about Caitlin and Ryan’s life changing decision.

“Lord, I–I don’t know what to say–I’m–I’m flabbergasted! These kids–well they’re not kids, they’re adults. That’s the thing–I can’t tell them what to do. But that’s why we’re here Lord–on our knees–because we need your help. Caitlin and Ryan need your help–guidance–wisdom. They’re thinking of taking on a huge responsibility. I know you already know, but they’re thinking of taking three kids, not just one, but three and a baby into their home. And so far they have no children. It’s a lot all at once. And–and kids that are messed up because their parents messed up.”

Jas paused for a moment, feeling reproach. “My heart is melting Lord.” Within a few moments Jas quieted “self” and let the Holy Spirit work. “I know it’s you Lord–melting my pride away–putting your compassion there. Truth is, we’re all messed up. That’s why you came to save us Lord. Thank you for your patience with me. Sometimes I get riled up–say stupid things–not like Jun here. She’s so patient. Thank you for her. Jun and I just want your best Lord–your best for the kids and the family we’re thinking about. We’ll just trust you. That’s all we can do. We’ll trust your guidance for our journey too. It’s been wonderful so far. Thank you Lord. Amen.”

Jun with eyes closed, but smiling with delight, squeezed Jas’s hand. “Thank you Lord for everything you’ve already done and all that you will do–even more than we can imagine. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Jun kissed Jas on the cheek as she got up off her knees. “Love your prayers–so full of heart. I just know God will answer.”

Jun googled the distance to Memphis and suggested they go there. It was only a few hours and she wanted to tour the Graceland mansion. Jas looked at the map and agreed. “We can go on from there to Fort Payne in about…oh…maybe seven hours. It’s a deviation from the Benge route, but I’m not sure why Benge led the Indians up into Missouri just to go back south again into Arkansas.” Then with a big grin, “Maybe they had a change in plans. Imagine that.”

Pondering, Junia tilted her head toward her shoulder. “I don’t remember reading anything about why they changed their route. While we’re driving, I’ll look online and see if I can find anything.”

“Sounds good. While I’m getting everything packed up in the car, will you call and make a hotel reservation in Memphis for tonight. That way we can rest tonight and then tour the mansion in the morning before going on to Alabama.”

With that the Jaspers were on the road again–Junia glad for the cooling, relaxing rain showers, which helped with less fussing from Jas about crumbs in the car, since she was snacking on cheese crackers and chocolate chip cookies. The only information she could find about the Benge route going into Missouri was speculation. Perhaps some of the Indians had family in Missouri, so they had gone there first, before going on to Oklahoma.

She also googled more information about Graceland, the history and Elvis Presley and his legacy as king of Rock and roll. Amazed that he had died so young, just a few years older than her own son John, who would soon be forty.

The next day while taking the tour, she was even more amazed at all the trophies and awards he had amassed during his short time on earth. After the Jaspers had left the trophy room they went along with the tour group out to the garden area, which was also the grave site for Elvis and his parents. In her mind she could hear him singing…

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses…”

  She hoped that he had made peace with God and was now in a mansion built by Jesus. The Jaspers both looked up from Elvis’ grave to a tour guest who had chuckled as he commented, “If all those Elvis sightings are true, then who’s in this grave here?”

Jas shrugged his shoulders with indifference while Junia looked up at the mansion, noticing the architecture and how it was similar to the two-story house at Oldfather Lake.

As the Japers left the tour of Graceland Junia’s curiosity couldn’t help but confer with her husband. “Honey–did you notice how similar Graceland mansion is to the house at Oldfather Lake?”

Jas scratched the side of his head as he thought about it. “Actually, I did. Even the walkway and the garden reminded me of the garden at Oldfather.”

“It’s very interesting!” Junia thought about it often for many days, but Jas quickly put it out of mind, anxious to get to their cabin on Lookout Mountain before dark. But since it would be a crime against his stomach to not get barbeque before leaving Memphis, the Jaspers stopped for lunch.  While drinking iced tea and waiting for ribs, Caitlin called while Junia was checking the weather on her phone.

“Hello…Caitlin? There’s static on the phone…that’s better, I can hear you now…the kids are already there at your house? How’s everything going with that?” Junia listened to Caitlin go on and on about how the three boys just sit, won’t talk, look bored and ask about when they’re going home, but they don’t want to go home. “It’s probably normal for them to feel insecure in a new situation. Takes time…I don’t know Caitlin…I’ll talk with your Dad and call you back in a bit…”

Jas almost choked on iced tea trying to ask, “Talk about what?”

“Caitlin said the foster kids have come to stay with them. Ryan works all day and even overtime without time off. The boys are really bored. Sounds like Caitlin is having a difficult time getting them to feel at home. She asked if we would come home and help with a campout, fishing trip.”

Jas made a little frowny face. Then with great gusto he talked with his arms to accentuate his point. “She’s asking me…us…to end our trip we’ve been planning since before she was born!”

Jas was exaggerating a bit, but Jun smiled with understanding. “I know, it’s a lot to ask.”

A waitress delivering a big tray of ribs and sides to their table was a welcome distraction to the dilemma. Junia grabbed Jas’ hand while he said a prayer of thanksgiving to God. And then, while passing the bread to Jas, Jun informed him of the weather forecast–rain for the next three days in Tennessee and northern Alabama. “But, let’s just enjoy our meal for now. I think this garlic bread will just melt in my mouth.”

Jas agreed with a thumbs up while his mouth was busy biting down on a juicy rib.

The Jaspers decided to go ahead and press on to Lookout Mountain since they had already paid in advance and even if it rained they could enjoy the beauty and quietly pray for Caitlin, Ryan and their new family.

Jas called Caitlin before getting on the road and gave detailed instructions about helping the boys practice putting up tents in the backyard. Practice, like boy scouts, which also included dismantling the tents, neatly folding and storing them away. Jas instructed that practice with the tents be done at least three times before actually going on a camping trip. Also, he suggested that they sleep overnight in the back yard or play in the tents during the day. “Have a cook out. Hamburgers and S’mores,” he said. “That would be fun. Also, teach them how to take care of Rusty…feeding, letting him out, playing ball with him in the yard…if that goes well, get them their own puppy to train.”

“Thanks Dad, we’ll start boy scout practice today. Love you. Tell Mom, love you too…have a great time in Alabama!”

“We will…we’ll check back with you later, in a few days. Praying about coming home or not…We’ll see about that…until then practice, practice, practice.”

“Well, now I wish I’d been a boy scout like John or at least joined in on the campouts you had with him.”

“You’ll be fine. Maybe Ryan will find some time to help too. Anyway, got to get going, it’s hot in the car…Mom says love you…and…oh, see you later, she says.”

Jas took a quick look at the map, then folded it just right for quick glances while driving. “Jun, it’s your job to keep me awake. You know what I’m like after a big lunch…” Jas chuckled a small belly laugh, his unique laugh somehow echoing through his whole body. One could know Jas was present just by his laugh.

“Oh, and google map a place along the way where we can stop for ice cream later.”

“Sounds like a lovely idea…haven’t had chocolate for a few days.”

With excitement Jun reviewed the itinerary folder. “Jas, the little log cabin we rented at Desoto looks so cute…can’t wait…we can go hiking and look at the waterfalls, flowers…oh, and canoeing…hope it doesn’t rain too much…you know, I think maybe Caitlin’s kids would like the hiking and canoeing too. Wish they were here.”

“Well maybe, we can find something like it closer to home…And that doesn’t mean I’ve decided to go home…not yet…we’re still thinking about it.”

Jun google mapped the route to Fort Payne and found a small town called Jasper. “Guess what? There’s a town named after us–Jasper, Alabama. It’s about midway between Memphis and Fort Payne–it’s coming up just off this highway–we could stop there for ice cream. It would be fun to take some pictures and caption them, The Jaspers in Jasper.

Jas chuckled with delight. “Let’s do it!”

The Jaspers had great fun taking pictures in Jasper and after they had ice cream, they stopped at a grocery store to get food and snacks to stock the cabin for three days. Driving on they approached Lookout Mountain at Gadsden. (The mountain range actually covers a wide area of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.)Then pressing on to Desoto State Park with the amber glow of sunset lighting the way, getting them to their cabin just before dark.

The next day met them with misting rain mingled with intermittent sunlight, which didn’t prevent an adventurous hike–enjoying delightful rests among rocky alcoves discovered along the way. Rests of quiet reflection.

They thought of the Cherokee people and the events that had led up to their removal from their land. Betrayal. Disagreements among the people. Some giving away the land and some fighting legally to get it back–not with force, but through the courts. But, to no avail, they were removed. They had left peacefully. Many Cherokees were Christians, submitting to God and to authority as taught in the scriptures. Others fled and hid and then started new lives in new locations along the way. And although, many had died along the Trail of Tears, Jas’ grandfather, Immookalee, had survived. Oklahoma became their new homestead and after a generation they were given their own section of land, which they still have today.

Jas quietly put away his Bible and waited while Jun finished reading her own pocket Bible. He clasped her hand in his hands. “Isn’t this place wonderful! God is so good!”

Jun smiled in agreement and sensing he had more on his mind, she quietly listened.

“Three generations later and here we are, back to where our ancestors came from. Now I have satisfaction…satisfied I’ve done this for grandpa. Here I am…a Cherokee, yet I can freely travel back to our original homeland…I could even move here if I wanted to. I don’t know why God allowed our people to be removed from their land. And actually, I don’t know of any people that God has promised a particular land except…except the Jews and their land in Israel…the only people promised a particular land. But the Jews are unique, a special people that God has chosen forever, a special covenant relationship. God brought his Son, the Messiah through the Jewish people. And we have the holy scriptures through the Jews. They’ve been removed from their land at times, but they’ve been restored.”

Jas paused for a moment, retrieved a water bottle from his backpack and slowly sipped some water as he spoke. “And I’ve been thinking about how people are basically the same…all people everywhere…basically the same. Although, I’m Cherokee, I’m a descendant of Adam, created by God. We’re all the same. We look different because God creates each individual uniquely with their own dominant genes. Some speak differently because long ago God scattered people and gave them different languages. But we’re all intrinsically the same…same basic needs…same sin nature.”

Jun nodded her head to show affirmation. “Sounds like you’re at peace with God and who you are. And I think you’re right. We’re all the same…except the only thing that can make us different, spiritually, is if we’ve been born again into the family of God by faith in Jesus Christ.”

“Oh, of course…in that sense, there are two different kinds of people, those in rebellion against God and those who are at peace with God by faith in his Son.”

Jas stood up, groaning a bit because of sitting on hard rock. He took Jun’s hand and helped her up. “Let’s go back to the cabin–we can cook dinner, take a nap and then go out to the creek for a little night fishing.”

Jun chuckled as she stretched her aches away. “Don’t know if I’m up to all that, but we’ll see.”

Lookout Mountain

The Jaspers finished out their adventure on Lookout Mountain by driving up to Rock City, Georgia in the Chattanooga Valley–about an hour away from their cabin and after a pleasant walk through the gardens to the Summit marker they reveled in the gorgeous, mountaintop view where they could see the entire range of Cherokee ancestral land.

From this vantage point Jas raised both hands and shouted. “Glory to God! Thank you for bringing me back to the heart of Cherokee land.”

Junia stood next to Jas, took his hand in hers, and with a heart full of love looked proudly at her husband.

After descending the Summit marker of Lookout Mountain they planned several activities to do on behalf of their forebears. They hiked to a waterfall for grandpa, went canoeing in the river for dad, and for Jas, he fished in a creek–documenting the events with pictures posted on their Facebook family page.

Then instead of going on further to the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation they turned back toward home with a stop at Guntersville Lake, a place marked on the Trail of Tears map as a place their ancestors had stopped to camp and rest after leaving Fort Payne toward Oklahoma.

In Alabama, Guntersville is known as the city on the lake, so of course the Jaspers had to go fishing. There they rented a cabin on the lake for the Fourth of July holiday and enjoyed sitting out on the porch to watch the cities’ fireworks display over the lake–a fitting celebration to end their journey before heading home.

Now that Jas was heading back home, completing the journey was bittersweet. He had been dreaming and planning the trip since he was a young father working to support his family as a carpenter. Junia had also helped provide income for the family as a math teacher at the local high school. She had worked since their youngest child, Caitlin, had started school. Now that both were retired this adventure was their first trip to celebrate. They had planned many other trips, but the Trail of Tears trip was special, at the top of the list.

As a carpenter, seeing the finished result of something he had made with his own hands gave Jas great satisfaction. However, completing the trek along the Trail of Tears was somewhat nebulous, except for the pictures they had taken. He wished that he had left something behind–something valuable–a benefactor instead of only a consumer. But then it occurred to him that his ancestors had already left behind beautiful land that they had worked hard to cultivate and build and now he, a grandchild, was able to go back and enjoy it. He accepted that, but for the other trips he would endeavor to leave something of value, instead of just taking enjoyment.

For now, they were needed back home to help Caitlin and Ryan with the kids. A different journey they hadn’t planned, but for which God had been preparing them all along.

~~~

  1. Trail of Tears. Oklahoma Historical Society. https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=TR003; Trail of TearsA Journey of Injustice. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/trte/index.htm; Cherokee. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherokee; Cherokee People. Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Cherokee-people

2. http://www.heritagetrailpartners.com/2015/06/benge-route/. Gloria Young. The Benge Detachment of Cherokees on the Trail of Tears.

This story is a fictionalization. Although, historical events, people and places are used fictitiously, details of the time period have been portrayed as accurately as possible for authenticity. All characters are fictional unless otherwise noted. If an actual historical character is mentioned an endnote with citation will be included.

Chapter Two

Caitlin’s kids practiced setting up tents in the backyard each time learning new techniques to expedite the process. Denver made a game out of it by challenging his younger brothers, Benjie and Corby, to beat their previous recorded time for putting up the tent. He borrowed a stop watch from Ryan and counted down. “One, two, three, go!” And off the three brothers went in haste to win the challenge.

And after they had worn out Caitlin’s old dog, Rusty, playing ball with him in the back yard–Caitlin rewarded them with a new puppy. Jazzy, a Golden Retriever, already a year old and trained as a service dog, followed the the kids everywhere, especially Benjie. Their new best friend guarded them overnight as they slept outside in the tent they had put up for the fifth time.

After Ryan left for work, Caitlin brought out orange juice and breakfast pastries for the boys. Caitlin peeked inside the tent door. “Good morning sleepy heads!”

Jazzy ran out to greet Rusty while the boys stretched and yawned. “Breakfast is on the picnic table.” While they nibbled on pastries Caitlin announced her parents planned to visit later that day. “Kids since I know you have grandparents whom you’re accustomed to calling grandma or grandpa, I thought it would be good to call your new grandparents by a different name. What do you think of Grand Jas and Grand Jun or the Grands for both?”

Denver quickly agreed. “The Grands is cool!”

Benjie practiced using their names. “Grand Jas and Grand Jun are coming to visit?”

“Yes, they are so excited to meet you! So after breakfast clean up the tent–Grand Jas wants to see your good work.”

“Are they going to sleep over in the tent?” Corby asked.

His brothers laughed then Caitlin explained. “No not this time, but we’ll have a picnic lunch. And I think Grand Jun is bringing homemade cookies.”

Corby was satisfied with that. “Yum!”

Later, when the Grands pulled up into the driveway, Denver opened the front door to peek out and Jazzy squeezed out wanting to be the first to greet the new grandparents. All the kids ran out after Jazzy, calling him to come back inside. Caitlin also went out to intervene in the commotion.

Grand Jas’ ears perked up when he heard the dog’s name called. “Looks like you all have a new doggy. His name is Jazzy?”

The youngest boy, Corby, giggled. “Named for you.”

Caitlin grinned, thinking her Dad would be annoyed at having a dog named after him. Tactfully, she explained. “We were trying to think of a name other than Goldie.”

Then the oldest boy, Denver, who was called Deni, quickly added. “Corby named him Goldie since he’s a Golden Retriever, but Goldie’s a girl’s name. And Jazzy’s male.” Deni looked down to the ground embarrassed by his brother’s mistake.

Caitlin quickly finished the explanation. “So anyway, I told the kids it was your idea to get a puppy…they asked about your name and one of the kids…I think it was Benjie…came up with Jazzy.”

Benjie blushed and grinned. “Yep, it was my idea.”

Jas had stooped over to pet Jazzy and then stood up, proudly beaming smiles at each of the kids. “Jazzy is a great name.”

Junia smiled at the youngest brother and patted the top of his head. “Goldie’s a good name too. Think I’ll save that name for my next puppy male or female.” Then Junia stood back, looking at the three boys as if making a photo of the moment and clasped her hands together in praise. “My goodness, you all look sharp today with new clothes–jeans, t-shirts and tennis shoes–Caitlin told me how you all had great fun shopping at the mall…going to the movies.”

The kids remembered their manners and that Grand Jun had sent a gift card for clothes shopping. Then beginning with Denver each said thank you and Corby added, “Thanks for the movies too.”

After completing introductions as practiced Caitlin motioned for everyone to go inside. “Let’s get lunch ready for out on the picnic table. Boys you can show Grand Jas the tent you’ve been working on.”

Jas had fun playing inspector of tents, giving kudos to all. Then he chuckled with delight watching his new namesake play ball with the kids. Jazzy brought the plastic bat to Benjie and then retrieved the plastic baseball after it was hit, bringing the ball back to the pitcher. Rusty, the older dog in the family, who slept most of the time, joined in the fun too by barking each time one of the boys hit the ball.

Soon everyone settled down around the picnic table for Hoagie sandwiches, chips and Brownies. Jas prayed and then while the boys built their own sandwiches he encouraged them on their tent practice. “Guys, I think you’re ready to go on a real camping trip–what do you think?”

Enthusiastically, all three agreed. “Yea!” Followed by all sorts of questions, when, where and can we…?

Jas chuckled, energized by their excitement. “We’ll need to check with Ryan…see if he can get off work…check the weather…but you know real outdoorsmen go camping any weather. In fact, we’ll read about it in the Bible sometime, but tents used to be homes for people. Abraham, who was a friend of God, dwelt in tents. Actually, even the very first house of God here on earth was a glorified tent called the Tabernacle. We can read about it later if you want to.”

While munching on chips Denver and Corby mumbled, “Wow!”

Benjie also expressed amazement. “Wow, even God lived in a tent!”

Caitlin, Jas and Jun smiled at each other in an unspoken agreement of joy as they observed the boys’ interest in God.

Jas added, “Yes, God’s Spirit was there in the tabernacle.”

Suddenly, everyone noticed a noise from the garage. It was the garage door opening and just as Caitlin got up to check, to her surprise, Ryan came outside the patio door. “You’re home early…everything okay?”

Ryan frowned. “Well no…but we’ll talk about it later.” He waved and said hello to everyone. “Any food left–I’m hungry?”

Caitlin added a chair to the end of the table. “Plenty of food…come sit here…we’re having hoagies…make your own.” Ryan was now included in the discussion about camping and relieved to be planning something fun instead of talking about how he had just lost his job.

After the Grands had gone home, Caitlin cornered Ryan. “What happened at work?” But he put off discussing anything while the kids were around.

Then after the family Bible reading and prayer time and after the kids were tucked into bed, Caitlin who had fought with imagined events all evening, patiently waited for Ryan to join her for a snack at the kitchen table. Quietly, she nibbled an oatmeal cookie and sipped iced milk.

Ryan finally came to the kitchen still smiling about a silly kid’s joke that Denver had told. In a hushed tone he raved about the homemade cookies. “Oatmeal chocolate chip–my favorite!”

Caitlin covered her mouth while chewing a cookie to comment. “Mom brought these over today for our picnic.”

Ryan quickly gobbled a couple of cookies, drank his milk and then sat back in his chair to relax. He playfully and purposely remained quiet knowing Caitlin was anxious to know what was going on at his work.

Exasperated, Caitlin took the plate of cookies away. “No more cookies for you until you tell me what’s going on!”

Ryan’s face with his playful grin became somber as he discussed the company where he had worked as manager for the past five years. He told her about the cut backs and then layoffs because profits had continued to decline. They discussed prospects for the future, but fear of the unknown began to creep into their minds. There at the table they clasped their hands together, bowing their heads in prayer to God. Together they cried and then prayed again, their foreheads pressed together as one.

God looked down and hugged them with his comforting love till both had peace–peace that God would somehow provide–even if for the moment, they couldn’t see how.

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

Chapter Three

The next day, Caitlin took a private moment while the kids were outside playing with the dogs to call her parents with the news of financial setback, explaining that she couldn’t bring herself to worry the kids, so for now they would keep it a secret. “But we want to go ahead and plan the camping trip since Ryan is available to go…you and dad don’t have to go this time if you’re not up to it…”

But Jas was sitting next to Junia listening to the conversation and at the same time thinking about how he longed to visit Oldfather Lake again. “I’m ready to go on another trip if you’re ready Jun.”

“Caitlin, your dad says he’s ready to go camping again–so if he’s ready then I’m ready too!”

Caitlin began to feel her burden lift, happy at the thought of planning something fun with the kids. “Good! The boys will be so exited–and it will be good for Ryan to relax before he gets busy looking for work.”

Later, Jas called Farmer Johnson to ask if the family could camp out at Oldfather Lake and go fishing and swimming there. He had left a voicemail message and received a call back right away from his new friend, who extended a welcome to all.

This time Oldfather Lake was easier for Jas to find, which was a relief to Junia since Caitlin, Ryan and the kids were following close behind in their Jeep. Finding the gate on the bridge unlocked, they drove up to the lake and parked near the dock. Then Jas and Ryan searched for the perfect place to put up the tents.

The kids begged to go swimming, but were told putting up tents was priority. Jas found an area with a stone campfire pit and an old picnic table, then Ryan called the kids who went to work immediately erecting the tents while Jas supervised. Caitlin and Jun brought out folding chairs, cushioned them with blankets and then cleaned the table. After they had all settled in their tents, making them as comfortable and cozy as possible, Junia and Caitlin prepared lunch while the boys played frisbee with Jazzy.

After lunch the Grands were sleepy and wanted to take a nap, but couldn’t put the kids off any longer on swimming. All changed to swimming clothes and life vests and headed down to the dock. And Jas took his fishing rod too.

Jazzy didn’t hesitate to jump right in after the boys, swimming along with them, while Rusty was content to lay in the sun on the dock and watch. Grand Jun and Caitlin sat on the edge with their feet dangling and splashing in the water while Jas fiddled around with his fishing gear preparing to cast in on the other side of the dock.

Soon evening came and clouds began to gather. The wind came up with darkening clouds. Then distant thunder. Grand Jas called for everyone to get out of the water. “Storms coming in! Hurry…hurry to the tents!”

Thunder began to get louder…clouds darker…and then lightening, but everyone was safe and sheltered. While checking the weather on her mobile phone, Junia noticed a voicemail message indicator. She handed the phone to Jas since the missed call was from Farmer Johnson. His message was of concern about the weather and an invitation to their family to stay inside the house if the storm got worse. Said he had left a key hidden in the flower pot on the porch. Jas discussed it with Jun and then checked the weather again. The weather radar indicated heavy rain with warnings of strong wind and hail. They estimated that in about thirty minutes it would be right over them.

Quickly, Caitlin, Grand Jun and the kids packed up everything inside their tents to stow away inside the vehicles while Grand Jas and Ryan worked on dismantling the tents and piling everything back into the Jeep. The kids were reminded that emergencies are the only time the tents are not neatly folded.

During the commotion Jazzy had gotten spooked by lightning and ran into the trees. Benjie followed after his new doggy, but couldn’t find him. Then Benjie got lost in the maze of trees not able to find his way back again in the dark. He began crying and calling after Jazzy, but the thunder was louder and the rain heavier. He was frightened–panic-stricken–then he stumbled over a fallen tree hitting his head on a branch.

He laid there for a few minutes in a daze and then a memory came to mind–Ryan teaching him and his brothers to pray at bedtime.

Boys, Caitlin and I are here for you, but if you’re ever alone and afraid in the dark or anytime you’re scared–Jesus cares–Just pray to God–ask him to help you.

Benjie cried out to God with all his heart. “If you’re here God, please help me!” Scared and not knowing what to do he crawled under an arch of branches along the ground, branches from the same tree he had stumbled over. There he took cover from the pouring rain.

Spending more time indoors than outdoors had not prepared Benjie for being lost in dark woods during a rain storm. Benjie, age eight and middle of the three boys in birth order, had always been the quiet, more studious of the three. His older brother, Denver, who was age ten, seemed to always have friends in the neighborhood even though his family moved often. Denver usually played ball or rode his bike (when he had a bike) with his friends while Benjie usually stayed inside reading or playing video games. Corby, his youngest brother, who was age five, also preferred playing outside with friends, riding bikes or playing in the sandbox. But when “trouble” came up at home the three of them stayed close, protective, watching over each other. Benjie longed for his brothers now. Where are they?

After what seemed like a long time, he saw flashes of light in the distance. The flashes got brighter and brighter. Suddenly, there was Jazzy, licking his face, followed by Jas and Ryan shining flashlights. Ryan picked him up and hugged him.

“What happened? Are you hurt?”

Benjie swallowed back a sob of relief. “Bumped my head, but I’m okay now.”

Ryan carried Benjie while Jas and Jazzy led the way back to the house. Then Ryan and Denver helped Benjie change into dry clothes and placed him in a warm, comfortable bed. Caitlin applied some ointment to the small scratch on his head and hugged him. “We prayed so hard to find you–glad you’re okay.”  

Benjie’s eyes lit up. “I prayed too…for God to help me.”

“See–he answered our prayers.” Caitlin raised her eyes up toward heaven. “Thank you God!” Then she patted Benjie on the head and asked Denver and Corby to watch over their brother while she helped Grand Jun make dinner.

Denver looked up and smiled as he dried Jazzy with a towel. “Sure, will do–can we play Chess? I saw a chess game on the table downstairs.”

“If Benjie is up to it.”

Benjie smiled saying an enthusiastic yes. Caitlin again thanked God quietly from her heart for the sign that Benjie was well.

Corby wasn’t interested in Chess, instead he sprawled out on the floor with a coloring book and crayons next to Jazzy, who was content to rest and take a nap. When Denver began winning the chess game, he decided to let Benjie win by dropping big hints about maneuvers he should make. Then later after dinner, Benjie used the same maneuver to win a game with Jas. Again, everyone was reassured that Benjie’s bump on the head was a minor abrasion and not needing the attention of a doctor.

Everyone slept well that night except Corby. He had awakened from a scary dream and then thunder frightened him even more. He thought of curling up with Jazzy who was already sleeping at the foot of Benjie’s bed, but instead he carefully climbed up the ladder from his lower bunk bed to Deni’s top bunk, curled up at the foot of the bed with his pillow and went back to sleep.

By early morning the storm had passed over, but since they had already settled in the house everyone voted to stay as guests in the house for the next two days. But, as good boy scouts should, they took care of the camping equipment first–cleaned, dried out and folded tents to neatly store away before enjoying the “fun stuff.”

Swimming, fishing, exploring and cooking hamburgers filled the rest of the day with refreshing amusement and ended with making smores out on the patio while watching fireflies flit about.

The next day at the Lake was a surprise field trip–surprise only to the kids. Ryan, Caitlin and the Grands knew about the trip to a neighbor’s farm for a special treat. However, Caitlin and Junia had decided to stay behind and do housecleaning to prepare for leaving later that day. Ryan had offered to stay and help Caitlin so that Jun could go along with Jas and the kids, but Junia insisted on staying behind and leaving the house as clean as they had found it.

Mid-morning after breakfast, each of the kids said goodbye to Caitlin and Grand Jun, then they instructed Rusty and Jazzy to be good as they left in the Jeep with Ryan and Jas. Farmer Johnson had given detailed instructions for getting to his neighbor’s property and specifically the area they would visit, which amazingly Ryan and Jas found easily. When they arrived Farmer Johnson and his neighbor were sitting on the porch of a very small, yellow house.

After introductions, neighbor Wooten, with all the expertise of a tour guide, explained. “Everyone, thank you for coming. Welcome to Bee Haven! This is where we harvest honey! Follow me! Right inside the door here, is an enclosed foyer. There we’ll suit up with aprons, gloves and a special helmet. This protects us, the honey and the bees.”

The kids giggled as they dressed up in what Corby said looked like astronaut clothes. The helmet had a clear plastic shield over the face as well as an extended vinyl covering over the head, neck and shoulders.

First, they were given a tour of the house where the honey is harvested. With a continuous smile and enthusiasm Mr. Wooten explained the process of harvesting honey, which to him was the most exciting venture ever, certainly the sweetest. Then everyone followed Mr. Wooten out into the woods as he carried a bee smoker–a can with a handle and smoke coming out from a nozzle on the top. He also gave one to Ryan and Jas to swing along beside them as they walked to the bee hives. The kids walked between them in a triangular fashion.

Denver teased his brothers as they walked along a small field of wildflowers. “Watch out! Bee’s stingers are as big as carpet needles!”

But his brothers rolled their eyes in disbelief. They had seen little bees on the clover in the yard and had never been stung. Mr. Wooten smiled and reassured them by explaining that he came to the hives every day and that during the daylight hours most of the bees were out working in the fields gathering nectar and doing their most important work of pollination. He stopped to show them a patch of wildflowers and bending down he pointed to the tiny pollen that bees collect as they feed on the nectar. He further explained how the bee transports pollen to another flower causing the flower to bear fruit and make more flowers.

“Without the bees at work, we would soon not have any fruit, vegetables…or bees. Our Creator made a wonderful design with bees. No evolution process could ever make something as complex as bees. Our all-wise Creator God designed bees to live in colonies…work together…hunt…collect and produce food–wonderful delicious honey.”

The group walked a little further into the woods, the bee smokers leaving behind a trail of smoke. Tall thin Oak and Cottonwood trees with sunlight filtering through sheltered the bee hives–hives which were wooden boxes with slotted combs inside, made just right for gathering honey.

Mr. Wooten carefully pulled out a comb to show everyone–honey sealed with bees wax–the result of busy bees at work. He took a little spoon, carefully scraped and scooped a little honey into it for someone to taste and asked for a volunteer. Deni volunteered Benjie to taste it, but Benjie insisted Deni or Corby taste it. So Mr. Wooten gave the spoon to the youngest brother.

Slowly, Corby lifted his mask and with hesitation tasted the spoon full of honey. His eyes sparkled with excitement. “Ohm…wow…this is good!”

Mr. Wooten smiled with satisfaction and promised to give a free jar of honey to Ryan and Jas after returning to Bee Haven.

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

Alone in the car and driving back home, Jas wanted to know all that was in Jun’s heart concerning the kids, grandkids and Oldfather Lake.

“I’m so proud our new grandkids! It’s fun having young ones in the family again!”

Junia bubbled over with joy. “I feel like they’ve been ours since they were babies.”

Junia looked back through the rear window to see the kids trailing behind in the jeep. “I’m thinking of something fun we can do and invite them over for a visit soon!”

Jas clasped Junia’s hand in his while his other hand remained guiding the steering wheel. “I was thinking of taking the boys to a baseball game…”

“That would be fun for you and Ryan, but I was thinking of something to do at home–dinner, games, making snow cones…”

Both were quiet for a few minutes each with their own thoughts about fun things to do with the kids. Then Jas’ thoughts turned toward Oldfather Lake. “Hope you’re not going to be disappointed going back to your old kitchen after Oldfather?”

Junia remembered with delight the garden patio just outside the french doors in the dining room–the kitchen’s large oak island and griddle where she had made pancakes, eggs and bacon for breakfast–the wide staircase with tapestry carpet leading up to four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom and fireplace. Who would not be tempted to covet this countryside mansion?

“I think Oldfather is a lovely retreat–a wonderful place to visit, but I’m thankful for home–looking forward to getting back there too!”

Jas squeezed Jun’s hand in appreciation of her gracious answer. “We’ll have to think of a special thank-you gift to send to Farmer Johnson.”

Although Jun’s answer satisfied Jas he quietly continued thinking about Oldfather Lake and the bidding process. Junia, sensing her husband was in deep contemplation about something, remained quiet the remainder of the trip–praying for the family including the new grandkids.

Chapter Four

Prayers continued daily for the children and Ryan’s need for a new job. Caitlin continued working from home, filling orders for custom made furniture. She and her brother, John had learned the art of carpentry from their dad. And even though she had gone to college, earned a business degree and worked at the same company where Ryan had worked, she longed to work with wood.

After Caitlin married Ryan and they bought their first house, she took her carpentry skills a step further and learned to make furniture for their new home. From her basement workshop Caitlin became an artist when making oak furniture. Friends who visited their home commented on the beautiful, unique furniture and requested Caitlin to make special pieces for them. Her business began with a few orders from friends and then by word of mouth, orders for her furniture multiplied. This venture brought income to cover the costs of materials, tools and her time, but wasn’t enough to cover all the bills. And since the kids had arrived she had postponed accepting orders at least until the kids would be in school. But now that Ryan was home she began working in her studio again hoping the extra income along with Ryan’s unemployment benefit would be enough until “something else” opened up for them. The “something else” still a mystery, yet with hopeful trust in a faithful, heavenly father, who always provides.

Ryan cherished the time at home with Caitlin and the kids. Transitioning from manager to full-time dad–from office environment to kitchen and playground–from production reports to story time and games–proved to be a refreshing contrast to his office routine.

In addition to working on furniture orders Caitlin secretly worked on making a baby crib, anticipating the arrival of a newborn baby soon. Their three boys would soon have a new baby sister to add to foster care. God willing, the four children would stay together in foster care with them for at least another year, maybe longer.

Ryan and Caitlin Walker had tried several years to have their own children. However, God had other plans for them. When offering up their lives to be missionaries in a foreign land, they waited, but never received affirmation from God. Yet when the opportunity came to offer up their lives to be parents to needy children, the confirmation came, along with peace. And now they would just have to trust God for his provision too.

“Now, may the God of peace…equip you with all you need for doing his will…” Hebrews 13:20-21

Summer days busy with household projects, visiting the new grandkids, weekend campouts, fishing, swimming, backyard cook-outs with neighbors, all quickly passed by until suddenly autumn arrived. The Jaspers amiably adapted to the retirement lifestyle. Especially with new grandchildren close by, even if temporary, they decided to love them like their own.

Their other grandchild, Jenna, lived far away in Colorado, the teenage daughter of eldest son John and his wife Lynette. They kept up with her on Facebook, where she posted pictures of herself with friends and occasionally surprise candid pictures of her parents. John had left home many years ago to attend Colorado State University to study forestry and there he had met his wife, Lynette. His wife often said in jest that John fell in love with Colorado first and her second, so if she had to move he would divorce her and since divorce is not an option, then it was Colorado until heaven. Then John had jokingly said that surely heaven must be somewhat like Colorado.

One crisp, cool autumn morning in October, God brought baby Ava into the world–a new sister for the boys to watch over, a new grandchild for the Jaspers–a newborn baby needing Caitlin and Ryan’s loving care . With bitter-sweet emotions, Charlotte, the family advocate, brought the sleeping baby, bundled in blankets, and carefully placed her in Caitlin’s arms.

As an advocate, Charlotte always empathized with the pain the natural birth mother felt when giving up her child, but also rejoiced with relief for the child when delivered to a safe environment. Baby Ava would be safe from her biological parent’s painful situation, a chance to be healthy in every way. Charlotte gave the new parents some helpful instruction and informational resources for additional help if needed. Then she visited with them about the boys, who at the moment were in school.

As Ryan and Caitlin sat side by side in awe of their new child Charlotte looked from one to the other, eye to eye, and after locking in their attention she smiled with her eyes. “I am so delighted about the progress the boys have made in their new home and at school. They seem happy and accepting of their situation. And so I’m confident that baby Ava will be well also.”

Ryan looked at Caitlin as if he wanted her to speak for both of them. “Thank you. We love them like our own and we’re so thankful that we’ll be able to keep them all together with their new sister.”

Charlotte stood up preparing to leave. “And we are thankful for you–for taking care of these children in their time of need.” As she headed toward the door Charlotte turned her head back and added. “And I know you feel like they’ve been a blessing to you too!”

The Walkers glowed with joy acknowledging Charlotte’s statement to be true. The kids had been a blessing and now one more blessing had been added to it.

The new parents reserved this memorable first day to provide full attention to baby Ava, to comfort and attend to every little need. Bottle feeding, burping, diaper changing and rocking her to sleep. Caitlin cuddled baby Ava, softly singing and even reading to her. She observed the little one’s natural routine to establish a schedule that would make baby Ava feel loved, comfortable and cherished.

Soon the boys were home from school and then they too gave their full attention to baby Ava, holding her for a moment and introducing themselves. They giggled about her tiny fingers and toes. The proud, protective, older brothers made Jazzy a little jealous for all the attention baby Ava was stealing from him. He scratched on the door to go out and then retrieved a ball from the corner of the yard, but when the boys played ball with Jazzy, and then gave him a doggy treat, all was forgiven.

A few days later, the Grands came to meet baby Ava too, bringing gifts for all, even Jazzy. Grand Jun presented a baby blanket and booties that she had crocheted and promised a crocheted doll later after it was finished. Jas brought her a fuzzy teddy bear that played music when squeezed. They also gave Caitlin and Ryan a gift card to help out with whatever else they needed. Also, a new board game for the kids and a toy for Jazzy.

Everyone in the Walkers household was elated to have a new baby along with all the gifts and glibly accepted little sister’s crying thinking it would pass in a few days. However, from baby Ava’s shoes, the first few weeks with her new family, must have been quite traumatic, emotionally and physically. Many times she cried till she turned red all over. It seemed the only time she didn’t cry was when bottle feeding or sleeping, but she didn’t sleep as long as she should. Caitlin tried the therapies that Charlotte had recommended–salt water baths, massages with baby oil, keeping her bundled in blankets, cuddling her and soft music. And Caitlin added her own therapy–prayer.

Little sister’s first week had been most trying for the family. For several days she slept for just one short hour before waking with a startling cry and then fell asleep again only after wearing herself out from crying. It was frustrating not knowing what her cry was all about. Was she in pain–was she frightened–was she sick? Oh, how they wished she could tell them.

They tried several routines to soothe her. Ryan prayed while Caitlin held her, rocked her, or patted her back in case there was a bubble in her tummy. Bottle feeding helped for a few minutes, but then after the burping and while trying to rock her to sleep, she cried again.

The next therapy to sooth her was a salt water bath. But no, she cried more.

They rubbed her with the baby oil. Dressed her in the softest flannel gown. Wrapped her up in three soft cotton blankets, all tucked in so only her face was showing, held her again, rocking her and finally she went to sleep, but only because she was worn out from crying.

Then she slept only an hour before waking up crying again. They had taken her temperature, which was very difficult while she was crying. But her temperature was normal, even with all the blankets she had wrapped around her.

After five days of crying and everyone becoming exhausted from lack of sleep, they called their doctor and explained the symptoms.  Dr. Paul asked if there was drainage from baby’s ear. Caitlin checked both ears and no drainage. Then Dr. Paul recommended a small amount of baby Tylenol to ease any pain baby may have and to place a warm drop of olive oil in each ear. Then bring her into the office for an exam the next day.

Ryan went to the store and purchased baby Tylenol, olive oil and baby formula. He decided to try a different brand of formula, even though it was more expensive. While comparing brands of baby formula he saw pacifiers hanging on a rack and on a whim placed one in the cart even though Caitlin promised to never get Ava started on one. He was almost out of the baby isle when his eye noticed baby lotion with lavender, “soothing to baby“, it said on the label. This too he added to the cart, praying and hoping one of these items would help baby Ava get better.

When he arrived home he found Caitlin asleep on the couch and baby sleeping soundly, tummy side down, cushioned on top of all her blankets.  He tip-toed across the room to take a closer look at the peaceful scene and smiled at seeing something new–little Ava with her thumb in her mouth. No need for the pacifier he had just bought. Quietly, he went to his room to take a nap before the kids came home from school–sweet sleep–even if for just an hour.

Since little sister discovered her thumb she began sleeping regularly like an infant should and eventually she slept through the night too.

However, the kids, exhausted from little sister’s crying at night, had trouble staying awake at school. Denver came home with flu symptoms and went right to bed. He had been sent to the school nurse when he fell asleep with his head down on his desk. Then the nurse called for Ryan to come pick him up from school because he was sick. Then whatever it was, cold or flu, Benjie and Corby came down with it too.

Denver trudged into the kitchen one morning, with a tissue over is mouth. “Caitlin–can I–uh sorry–may I have some hot chocolate for my sore throat.”

Caitlin smiled while busily preparing breakfast for everyone. “Hot tea would be better. Want to try it? I’ll put some lemon in it.” He nodded his head. “Deni, when did you last take your Nyquil, maybe it’s time to take another dose?”

“I think it was last night.” He coughed a little, covering his mouth with the tissue.

Caitlin gave him the Nyquil bottle. “Here, take another dose from that measuring cap on the top. Remember, to that first line in the cup. I’ll bring you a tray with hot tea and some breakfast in just a bit…Are Benjie and Corby awake too?”

“They’re still asleep, I think. I’ll check.” Denver being the eldest brother took the responsibility of watching over his younger brothers. All three shared the same large bedroom, furnished with four bunk beds, ladders for climbing up to the top, a tall chest of drawers and two desks that Caitlin had made. He found his brothers awake and needing some Nyquil too. He washed the dispenser cap and after giving a dose to both brothers told them to stay in bed, except for the necessaries, then reported to Caitlin–breakfast and tea for three.

Fortunately, Caitlin, Ryan and baby Ava had thus far escaped getting sick too. Caitlin made hot tea, toasted bagels with cream cheese and orange slices for all the boys and took it to them on a tray so that they could stay in bed. She touched each forehead with the back of her hand to check for fever and then tousled their hair. “Getting better, fever all gone. Here, Deni and Benjie sit at the desk to have your breakfast and Corby you sit on the floor pillow over here. Deni–you say the prayer–then bring the tray with the dishes back to the kitchen after your done–I will appreciate it. Then, everyone get back into bed and sleep or read.”

Jazzy and Rusty had gone out to their place in the kitchen for their morning meal and then out to the back yard, but right back in to sleep on the floor of the boys’ room. There was a week when the whole family was home and in bed trying to sleep, except when baby Ava was awake and crying.

However, the Grands offered to take care of baby Ava for a few days so the family could catch up on rest. But Caitlin didn’t want baby Ava taken out of her new environment wanting to give her time to adjust and feel secure in her new home. So after the boys had recovered from their colds, the Grands invited them to stay over for a long weekend, so they could sleep and rest.

Grand Jas set up an old Nintendo game system that his son, John, had used when he was a teenager. The boys had great fun playing Mario Brothers, then they watched old movies and made popcorn in the fireplace. Grand Jun enlisted the kids to help with putting together a home-made pizza and then making Snickerdoodle cookies. The boys slept late Saturday and Sunday morning, refreshed from ten hours of sleep each night and then they attended the late worship service at church on Sunday morning. The Walkers had been taking the boys to their own church, a different church than their parent’s church, a smaller neighborhood church with young families. The boys had been going to children’s church while their parents attended the worship service in the sanctuary.

The boys noticed the difference in Children’s church and the adult service and as they walked back to the car after the service, Corby with great curiosity asked, “Grand Jas, why not a puppet story in church today?”

Jas chuckled along with Denver and Benjie. “I don’t know. It’s a good idea. Is that what they have at Caitlin’s church?”

“Yeah! They have puppets telling Bible stories.”

“Wow, can I go to church with you next time?” Jas asked in jest. Junia smiled and shook her head no.

But Corby was serious when he said, “I don’t know, I’ll ask Caitlin, I think it’s just for kids.”

In her own good time, little Ava felt secure with her new family and one day rewarded Caitlin with a gurgling smile. That little smile was worth all the sleepless nights and frazzled days–hopefully the beginning of better days for baby Ava. This hope she held in her heart for all the kids–a hope for them to know God–prepared for adulthood and life’s journey walking with the Savior.

Photo by VisionPic .net on Pexels.com

Chapter Five

With purpose Jas set out for a mid-morning walk–something he had decided to do everyday upon hearing the results of his cardio tests–thankful that he hadn’t needed surgery or medication. And he wanted to keep it that way.

During his visit to the doctor’s office Dr. Paul had inquired about his success in giving up smoking. Jas admitted he still “occasionally” smoked cigarettes.

Jas proudly admitted, “Just three times a day.”

Dr. Paul gasped with exaggeration to make his point. “Far too much. I implore you to quit using all tobacco–immediately!”

Jas cleared his throat thinking of how to respond. Just the thought of quitting even just three cigarettes made him cough, causing Dr. Paul to frown.

Dr. Paul left for a moment then returned with a booklet which he handed to Jas. Somberly he looked at Jas eye to eye. “Promise to read this and follow the steps. Replace that nasty tobacco habit with good habits.”

How could he refuse? Meekly he agreed. “I promise I will try.”

Dr. Paul smiled with triumph. “Good! I trust we will hear good news of success on your next visit.”

As promised Jas read the booklet and this time he was determined to succeed. This is the first step–determination with good reasons to quit. He thought of several good reasons–clean air–clean lungs–save money.

Jas proceeded to the next step–replace the bad habit–the time of day–the use of hands and mouth for tobacco with something better–something good. Instead of smoking in the morning he would enjoy a flavorful aromatic coffee and a walk after breakfast. Instead of smoking after lunch he would chew flavorful gum or for fun, bubblegum. In the evening instead of smoking after dinner he would work on a wood carving project.

And the final phase to give up smoking–patience (it takes several weeks to change from a bad habit to a good habit–never give up–not even for just one puff.

As Jas started the “good habit” of walking in the morning he had a little talk with God. He had already enjoyed chai latte–a new “good habit” along with something he had already been in the habit of doing for many years–Bible reading and prayer in the morning. And lately he savored the time alone with God while walking.

Father God–Thank you for helping me–giving your holy spirit for strength and patience to quit smoking–diligence in walking and wood carving–good things I enjoy doingYou know everything and you know I’ve been thinking about bidding on the house at Oldfather Lake…I commit this to you God…trusting your guidance and your will be done…

As Grand Jas reached the turning point in his walking route he gazed at the simple beauty of the neighborhood–yellow and orange oak leaves swirling in the breeze–a squirrel running along a tree branch–bright pink mums bordering a hedge along a porch–a walker with their scruffy dog on the other side of the street and the wonderful sound of children at the school playground. His heart full of joy, he continued walking at a more leisurely pace, resting his swaying hands in the pockets of his jacket and then he felt a card. He pulled it out to see that it was Farmer Johnson’s business card with instructions for submitting a bid for the property at Oldfather Lake. He had often thought about bidding, but without enough certainty to follow through. Yet now he felt encouraged by God’s peace to go ahead with it.

~~~

Caitlin completed the morning routine of bottle feeding, burping, bathing and dressing baby Ava in a new flannel gown, matching booties and hair bow. Ryan tidied the living room, putting away toys, fluffing pillows and putting the dogs out to the back yard. They were expecting Charlotte, the children’s

advocate, who was right on time for a meeting she had requested. She had already met with the boys earlier in the week and this was a follow-up meeting while they were at school.

Charlotte always smiled and remained positive even with delicate, difficult situations. Today she wanted to present an opportunity for Caitlin and Ryan to adopt all four children. Professionally, she explained the situation. The natural parents would be in prison for at least ten years, perhaps longer, and they had given up custody of the children so that they could be adopted.

Charlotte’s eyes sparkled with joy. “The children are doing so well with you and we want to present the opportunity to adopt the children as your own–it would be wonderful to keep them all together.” Then looking at little Ava she talked “baby talk.”

“Isn’t that right Ms. Ava–you want to stay with your big brothers too.” Little sister smiled and waved the rattle in her hand as if to say yes.

Caitlin looked at Ryan and then Ryan looked at Charlotte and with a puzzled look he asked. “You know I’m unemployed, don’t you?”

Charlotte raised her eyebrows and slowly replied. “Yes, I think I understand your concern. Keep in mind that there is a waiting period. That’s for the natural parents, if they want to change their mind. However, you can proceed to do the paperwork so that when the waiting period is over, then the adoption is finalized. Hopefully, by then you will be employed. Anyway, you don’t have to agree today, you can take time to think about it. Just wanted to keep you up to date with what’s going on.”

Caitlin smiled lovingly at baby Ava as she shifted her to her lap to give her arm a rest and then looked at Ryan and back at Charlotte. “We’ve already discussed the possibility of adoption…the kids have been talking with us about their visit with you…their parent’s incarceration…it’s been difficult for them. We encourage them to talk…express their feelings…we try to comfort them, pray with them, teach them about God. Definitely, we want to adopt all of them. We had no idea it could be this soon.”

Ryan smiling in agreement added, “Yes, we’ve already promised God to take care of them, all four. So we’re trusting God to provide.”

Charlotte chuckled as she reached for her bag and pulled out some documents. “I know–I knew you would–that’s why I went ahead and prepared the paperwork for us to do today.”

Although it was true that Caitlin and Ryan trusted God for provision, the Jaspers had been sending extra help, not because they were asked, but when they felt the Holy Spirit’s prompting, they sent gift cards to help with clothes, groceries and the extras. Now Caitlin hoped that her parents would not feel pressured financially with the news of their adopting all four children. But when Caitlin shared the news, if there was any pressure felt, there was certainly no evidence of it, or any hint of assumed financial obligation from her parents. The Grands were ecstatic.

However, the Walkers did not share the legal details of adoption with the children. Caitlin and Ryan focused on being good parents, the best parents ever, day by day, for as many days as they were given by God. They had encouraged the boys to be honest with their feelings of sorrow or if they had any questions about anything to not feel embarrassed to ask.

Corby’s new parents encouraged him when he worked on an art project at school. His first grade teacher had assigned each student to draw pictures for a picture storybook, A Day in the Life of (Child’s Name). All the students were to draw twelve pictures of something significant in their lives–twelve eventful days from the past year. One of the pictures Corby drew was a police car taking his parents away. Some of the children seated next to Corby asked him about the picture. He explained that his parents had been arrested and taken to jail by the police.

One child pressed Corby for more details. “But why, Corb, why?”

Corby turned red in the face from embarrassment. “They ran a red light.”

Corby’s answer seemed to satisfy his friends, but afterward a few of the children made fun of Corby and began to bully him after school. Corby had been in the habit of walking with them after school for a few blocks until he could meet up with his older brothers, who attended another school close by. One day, his brothers discovered the bullying and became angry, which led to a fight, and ended up with Denver being accused of being the bully. It took several days for all the details to be sorted out and for the boys who had bullied Corby to admit the truth.  During the process the boys became very discouraged, especially Corby who began thinking up excuses for not going to school.

One day, after he had parted from his older brothers, instead of going on to school he turned around and went back home and hid in the garage. His plan seemed to work fine until the school called about his absence, while at the same time Jazzy had sniffed him out in the garage, barking until Ryan came to check on him.

But Caitlin and Ryan had compassion on Corby. Their scolding was not condemnation, but letting him know how worried they would have been if Jazzy hadn’t found him. Then Caitlin made hot chocolate for all while baby sister napped. Ryan brought a book of children’s bible stories to the table and while they sipped their hot chocolate he read to Corby about David and Goliath.

David, a young shepherd who guarded his father’s sheep, was sent by his father to check on the progress of his brothers in the King’s battle with the Philistines. He sent a gift of bread and cheese with David to give to the King and while visiting with his eldest brother he learned about the giant, Goliath, who had stood against King Saul and his men. None of the King’s men were able to overcome him. But David in righteous indignation, said ‘Who is this giant who defies the armies of the living God?’ Then David offered to go up to fight against the giant, explaining he was not afraid, because many times he had rescued a lamb from a bear or a lion. He was confident that God would help him fight against the giant in the same way he had helped him before. David selected five smooth stones and took his slingshot and his staff because this was how he was accustomed to caring for his sheep. The giant made fun of David and cursed him, but David replied that he came in the name of God, the God of heaven’s armies. Then he calmly took a single stone and with the slingshot he struck the giant’s forehead causing him to fall. Then David took the giant’s own sword and cut off his head.” 

Corby wiped the chocolate off the corners of his mouth with the back of his hand. “Wow! Is that real?”

Ryan chuckled. “This is a true story from the Bible, 1 Samuel 17.”

As Ryan sipped his hot chocolate made with coffee he talked more about the story. “So Corb, why do you think David was a hero? Was he bigger than the giant?”

“Uh, no.”

“Was David’s weapon bigger or better than the giant’s?

Corby wide-eyed said, “A little sling shot compared to a sword…no way…I don’t think so.”

Ryan continued with his reasoning questions. “Was David just lucky?”

“Some kind of lucky.”

Ryan chuckled again. “Remember in the story how David said that God had helped him rescue a lamb from a bear or a lion.”

“Oh, yeah!” Corby continued to ponder this while nibbling on marshmallows.

“Do you think David had confidence in God–that God would help as he had in the past?”

Corby nodded in agreement. “So Corb, the reason I chose this story was to help you in your situation. Seems like you think you have some giants in your life, right?”

Corb leaned his face on his forearm and frowned. “Yeah.”

“Would you like God to help you with your giants?”

“I guess so…But, I’m just a little kid—and the kids at school aren’t giants—if I could just—you know just not…”

Ryan helped him out with his words. “If you could not be afraid.”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“Let’s pray together–ask God to help you have courage with friends at school.”

Ryan took Corby’s hand and both bowed their heads.

“Father God, here we are, Corby and I. We have some giants we need your help with. We’re asking for courage–courage for Corby to face the children at school–not to be arrogant, prideful or quarrel, but help him to forgive and have confidence in you God. Help him to be aware of your presence–to know that you are always with him so he doesn’t need to fear because you are always right beside him. In Jesus’ name we pray.”

Ryan looked up at Corby. “If you agree with our prayer, say amen.”

Corby’s eyes popped wide open with a smile. “Amen!”

“Corby let’s start having a prayer huddle like this before school every morning and with your brothers too. What do think? Got courage?”

“Yep!” Then Ryan reached out to Corby with a high five.

Chapter Six

The amber days of autumn were winding down and soon it was Thanksgiving holiday with Caitlin, Ryan and the kids gathering to feast at the Grands. Ryan had been reading to the kids about the first historical Thanksgiving feast–pilgrims celebrating the harvest with the Indians who helped them with their crops. For fun everyone dressed in costumes, either as pilgrims or Indians, for the feast at the Grands. Junia wore a long gray dress with a white apron and bonnet. Jas wore his usual plaid flannel shirt, but with jeans tucked into soft leather moccasin boots and a matching leather vest.

The kids had made hats, headbands with beads and feathers for everyone. Baby Ava wore a bow with a tiny feather tucked in and a beaded bracelet on her wrist.

With a fake frowny face Jas remarked about the different costumes. “Jun are you the only pilgrim here at this feast?”

Junia smiled proudly. “Actually, we’re all pilgrims here on earth–it’s only my dress that’s different.”

Jas smiled and rubbed his hand on his belly. “True and hopefully we’re all on our way to heaven someday, but not till we have some pie.”

Everyone chuckled and Junia smiled while quietly praying, Lord have mercy. 

Then after each one found their place at the table, gracious applause honored Caitlin and Junia, who brought out platters of roasted turkey, roasted vegetables, bowls of gravy, stuffing casserole, and Indian bread. And after each cup was filled with apple cider, Denver had the honor of saying the prayer–a prayer he had written and practiced with Ryan’s help.

“Father in heaven, we’re here to celebrate the harvest. Thank you for sending rain to fields growing our food. Thank you for farmers who worked to grow and gather our food. Thank you for all those who work to prepare, transport and provide our food for purchase. Bless each one. Thank you for our families and all you give us each day. Bless each one as we celebrate with this meal. May we always remember you are near, Amen.”

And everyone said, “Amen!”

Jas paused after a few bites of turkey with gravy and lovingly looked at his wife. “Jun, this is the best–ever–really! And I just want to say I’m so thankful for a wonderful wife and four new grandchildren. You’re all great kids. Just hope, with Gods’ help, to be a good grandpa, or Grand as you call me.”

All the kids heart’s brimmed over with joy. As head of the family, Grand Jas had started their “thanksgiving” tradition. “So I’m the first to express what I’m thankful for, let’s go around the table and each one say what you’re thankful for.”

Junia had squeezed a seat in at the end of the table, next to Jas. She smiled lovingly at Jas and then smiled at each one around the table. “Thank you hon–always thankful for you and our children, and this year, four new grandchildren–count it a privilege to be your Grand–hope I can be a blessing to you, as you are to me.”

Denver, fork in hand, played with the vegetables on his plate while thinking somberly. “Miss my parents…hope they’re okay…but thankful for a good home…thankful for everyone, Caitlin, Ryan, the Grands, my new baby sister.”

Everyone looked over at baby Ava, who was cradled in her carrier sitting on the floor next to Caitlin. She smiled and gurgled while toying with the bracelet on her wrist. Then Deni beamed a smile to Jas, “Oh, and thankful for Jazzy…and learning to camp and fish.”

Denver nudged Corby who was seated next to him. “Okay, Corb, you’re next. Say what you’re thankful for.”

Corby looked over at Ryan seated next to him and grinned. “I’m thankful for David and courage.”

Caitlin and Ryan, followed by his brothers, applauded and said, “Yea!” The Grands looked puzzled so Ryan promised to explain later. But his brothers knew from the prayer huddles before school, that he was thankful for David from the Bible story and courage to face friends at school.

Ryan, seated at the end of the table, smiled and chuckled, raised his glass of apple cider as a toast to everyone. “Thankful for family to love and to share God’s goodness with day by day. Cheers!” The Grands and Caitlin raised their glasses and said cheers!

Corby scrunched up his nose and asked, “What does cheers mean?”

“Cheers means good health!”

Corby smiled and in humble acceptance took his cup, lifted it up with both hands and then said, “Cheers!” Then his brothers followed and did the same.

Caitlin raised her cup of cider again to toast, smiled and said, “Cheers again!” Then after a small sip of cider she said, “I’m thankful to finally be a Mom to four wonderful children! And happy that Ava’s finally sleeping!”

Everyone agreed that Ava sleeping was something to celebrate. “Yea!”

All eyes were on Benjie who was next to Caitlin. He looked down for a moment, his smile turning to gloominess. A tear trickled down the corner of his eye. “I’m sad because my parents messed up–and–and–it’s good for us now, but I–I think about–what will happen to us later?”

Caitlin placed her arm around his shoulder and wiped his tear with her napkin. “Ahhh Benjie–its okay–we all sometimes worry about tomorrow. Remember when you were lost in that storm, when we were camping?” Benjie nodded. “Remember, what did you do then?”

“I fell. And…oh, I cried to God, to help me.” Benjie’s face lightened.

“And God answered your prayer. Remember, Jazzy found you and Ryan and Jas carried you home.”

Ryan added. “Remember, God is always near. And we’re here for you too.”

Jas included his encouragement. “Benjie, when you’re tempted to worry, just tell God about it. Remember how he helped you before. And we’re here for you too.”

Junia smiled lovingly at Benjie and added, “Yes we’re your Grands forever!”

Benjie rubbed the tears out of his eyes and smiled. “I guess I have a lot to be thankful for.” Caitlin smiled and patted his back. “Hope for the best–God’s best!”

Chapter Seven

Ryan was discouraged. Early in his unemployed status he had been confident about acquiring new work. But so far, out of all the resumes he had sent out–only one interview. With Christmas coming soon he was even more determined to find work. He applied for temporary seasonal jobs, but no offers. Then he took on more household chores and taking care of baby Ava so his wife could work on backorders of furniture.

He cried out to God for wisdom and direction.

Since his work experience had been small-scale manufacturing it seemed to him that he would have to transition to something else, since locally, very few manufacturing businesses existed.

While doing chores he observed the labels of common household items and learned that everything was made in China or some other country, any country but his own. He became very frustrated with this discovery. Frustrated to the point of thinking about going into business for himself–perhaps making one of these items that so many people use every day. Why not? He began to contact other professionals and previous coworkers for their input and feedback. He developed a private web page for communication and collaboration where they could post information, reports and research. Energized with this new direction–Ryan was hopeful again.

~~~

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“Should we have a Christmas tree kids?”

Everyone had just settled down for a family meeting in the living room, but now the kids jumped up and down expressing their approval for getting a tree. Earlier that Sunday evening they had celebrated the first advent during a soup dinner with an advent candle as the table centerpiece while Ryan read the scriptures about Messiah’s birth. The kids enjoyed the novelty of an advent celebration, but had asked about a Christmas tree because their friends at school and neighbors had Christmas trees with lights. Ryan and Caitlin had never put up a tree before, since previously they had no children at home, but now it seemed like a good idea. So they had sat down for a family meeting to discuss the Christmas tree.

Caitlin laughed and Ryan motioned for the kids to sit down again. “Okay kids it appears you definitely vote yes for a Christmas tree–should it be plastic or a real tree?”

Each of the kids had a different answer while baby Ava began to fuss because she was tired and ready to sleep. After further discussion they all decided on a real tree with candy canes and red bows and that they would eat popcorn while decorating the tree, rather than hang it on the tree. Denver hinted that handmade ornaments were already in the works at school. So it had all been settled. They planned to purchase the tree and other items, then assemble it the next Sunday night after advent celebration.

Ryan planned to use the gift card Jas had given him to purchase things for Christmas. As he walked into the store he saw an elderly man who reminded him of his dad. Tears came to his eyes when he thought of his parents–missing them–wishing they were still alive. Someday, he would have to tell the kids the story about his parents. It was an exciting, adventurous story of missionaries who gave their lives to tell others about Jesus. For now he was on a mission, an errand to purchase groceries, the Christmas decorations and all within time to pick up the kids from school.

He chose the super store for the task, taking a shopping cart and armed with a small calculator in hand he proceeded to look for the items on his list, starting with the decorations. Since the decorations took up the whole cart, he checked out with those first, taking them out to stow away in the car trunk, then he went back into the store to shop for groceries. Snowflakes began coming down so he added hot chocolate mix to Caitlin’s list.

He visited briefly with neighbors and church members who were also shopping. “Hey Ryan be careful–snow’s coming down heavier!”

He discovered it true after checking out and with great difficulty pushed the cart through the snow to the car. He noticed the hatch was ajar. Upon raising the door–his heart sank.

“Everything is gone!”

Someone had taken the decorations and gifts out of the jeep while he was grocery shopping. There wasn’t enough money to buy more. How could he tell the kids? He could only imagine their disappointed faces.

He proceeded to clean the fluffy snow off the windows–thankful for no ice. But then the jeep would not start. He sat for a moment, not sure what to do. What now, God? I should have stayed home.

Caitlin had sold her car, so now they had only one car. He pulled his phone out of his coat pocket and called home. “Caitlin, I’m at the store and ready to go pick up the kids, but the Jeep won’t start…okay…call your Mom and have her pick up the kids…I’ll try to call that mobile car guy to see about getting the Jeep started…I’ll let you know…love you.”

Okay, so the kids are taken care of…please God, help me get this Jeep started. He tried again, turning the key in the ignition, but no start. He called the mobile car guy–no answer–so left a voicemail. With a rolling finger tap, he lightly tapped the steering wheel. What to do, God? What to do?

He watched the snow coming down–big fluffy flakes–so peaceful and beautiful. An old song came to his heart. ♫Peace, Peace wonderful peace, coming down from the Father above, sweep over my spirit…in fathomless billows of love♫

He looked up toward heaven. Help me Jesus!

Ryan quietly waited, hoping perhaps the mobile car guy would call back, but then he saw his neighbor coming out from the store. Ryan rolled down the window and shouted, “Hey would you pull your car over next to mine to jump start the battery.”

It worked. Ryan was on the road again, thankful to God, arriving home soon after the kids had already been dropped off by Junia. He would take the Jeep in later to have it checked out. Caitlin met Ryan at the kitchen door as he came in from the garage. He whisked her off to their room to privately tell her about the theft from his car.

Holding her closely in his arms he quickly kissed her hello. “The good news is, I’m home safe with my lovely wife and kids–the bad news is…” Then he stood back with a grimaced face. “All the decorations and gifts I bought were stolen out of the Jeep!” Screeching with disgust he fell backwards on top of the bed. “Ugh!”

“Oh no!” Caitlin heard baby Ava crying so she turned toward to the door. “What are we going to do?”

“Don’t tell the kids yet. Not until we figure it out.”

Caitlin hurried off to check on baby Ava while Ryan finished unloading the groceries. Then Ryan called the kids and the dogs to go out to play in the snow. They built a snow fort, had snowball fights, made a snowman and angels in the snow till dusk. Dad had to end the day laughing and having fun with the kids–his way of honoring God with joy, expressing his thankful trust in God’s loving-kindness in the midst of disappointment.

The Jaspers had spent the whole day cleaning and decorating with holiday lights. Carefully Jas hung a strand of lights inside the large picture window to frame the Christmas tree. Inspecting each branch of the tree, fluffing it out after being smooshed in a box all year, he constructed the evergreen tree in front of the window. And then Jun added treasured family heirloom ornaments to the tree remembering the occasion for each one. And something new this year–four new Christmas stockings each embroidered with their grandchild’s name. Proudly, the stockings were hung on the wall next to the fireplace.

The Jaspers took a coffee break and called their children. Ryan and Caitlin were relieved to know the Grands had decorated with a tree and lights this year, not explaining why because the kids were near, but secretly thankful for a solution to their dilemma.

Caitlin moved to the privacy of her bedroom with mobile phone to her ear. “Of course! We’re all happy to come over to visit on Christmas Eve!” said Caitlin, responding to Junia’s invitation over the phone. “We could all attend the Christmas Eve service at church and then, if it’s alright with you, could we have our fourth advent celebration with a soup supper at your house.”

Junia was ecstatic. “That would be wonderful! We haven’t had an advent celebration here since you were kids. And you know, we wanted to have fun, so we bought Christmas gifts for everyone to open. But, don’t worry about gifts for us. Oh…and we’ll make a birthday cake for Jesus too! …See you later.”

Jas had given up his afternoon walk to help with the decorating and had made coffee while Junia talked with Caitlin. She could smell the wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen. He had brought a cup to her just in time to hear her talk about a birthday cake. In jest he asked, “Whose birthday is it?”

Junia smirked a smile. “You know it’s Jesus’ birthday. What kind of cake should we make?”

“Glad we haven’t forgotten Jesus this Christmas. It is all about Jesus! Ohm…what kind of cake…I think it should be spice…because Jesus was born–God became man to die for our sin…and when he was buried, he was wrapped in spices…what do you think?”

“That makes sense…then spice cake it is…and now after talking about cake, my tummy thinks it should have at least one cookie to go with this coffee.” Junia proceeded to the kitchen to get cookies.

Jas grimaced a smile. “You’ll have to make a batch then, because I just ate the last cookie.”

Junia pouted a frowny face and sat down next to Jas. “Never mind then. Coffee is enough.” She quickly kissed him. “Coffee and you.”

At the Walkers home the kids had asked every day about the Christmas tree and when could they decorate. The new parents couldn’t put off any longer letting the kids know about the theft and decided to have a family discussion that evening. After baby Ava was rocked to sleep, Caitlin joined everyone waiting in the living room. Ryan was somber anticipating disappointed kids. The kids were lively, jumping up and down, playing as kids do, but when Caitlin sat down and Ryan opened the Bible, they settled down to listen.

Caitlin began with prayer. “Father God, we’re gathered here to learn about you. Help us to understand the Bible story, to love you and each other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Ryan enthusiastically began teaching from Matthew 18:21-35. “Hey everyone, today we have a parable that Jesus taught his disciples. Peter had asked Jesus how many times we are to forgive someone. So Jesus told a story about a King who wanted to settle accounts with his people. The first account was a man who owed one million dollars, but could not pay. The king ordered the man and his entire family to be sold to pay off the debt, but the man pleaded with the King to give him more time to pay. The King decided to forgive the debt and let the man go free. This same man who was forgiven his debt went to one of his own servants who owed him money and asked him to pay. The servant begged for more time to pay it off, but the man would not relent and had him thrown in prison. Some people nearby observed that the man had not forgiven his servant his debt, but put him in prison, so they informed the King. The King called the man and confronted him about his actions toward his servant. The King demanded the man to be put in prison to pay his debt since he had refused to forgive his servant’s debt.

“Jesus taught us to have mercy and forgive others because he has had mercy and forgiveness toward us. All have sinned against God and we can never do anything to pay for our sin debt. But God sent his Son, Jesus the Christ, to die, paying the penalty for our sin. If we have accepted God’s way of Salvation through Jesus Christ, then Jesus has paid our sin debt. Gratitude to Jesus for having our own sin debt removed should lead us to have mercy and forgiveness toward others.”

Ryan looked up to see the kids with puzzled faces. “Does anyone have any questions about this story?”

Denver said, “Nope,” while the others shook their heads no.

Ryan sighed. “The reason we chose this story is to help us with responding to a hurtful situation. Do you kids remember the day when Grand Jun had to pick you up at school because the Jeep wouldn’t start?”

Denver said, “Yep,” while Benjie and Corby’s eyes popped wide with a smile. “Yeah, we played in the snow when you got home,” said Benjie.

“Yes, that’s right!” Ryan smiled about that good memory, but the smile faded as he prepared to tell the bad news. “Earlier that day, while shopping, the decorations, the tree and gifts I had bought got stolen out of the Jeep.”

Ryan and Caitlin watched their faces go from happy smiles to downcast frowns. Ryan explained further. “I know, it’s sad…and I was angry at the one who stole our decorations, but then I forgave whoever did it, because Jesus taught us to do so. And this command is for our good, as are all of God’s commands! Because if we don’t forgive, we become bitter, dark and gloomy, our prayers are hindered. And if we refuse to forgive and seek revenge, we give a foothold for the devil to do nasty things in us and to us.”

Denver looked down with a sad face. Benjie’s brows scrunched together from confusion. Corby stared into space with jaw dropped down in disbelief.

“It’s okay to be sad and angry for a few moments, as long as you don’t hold onto it or seek revenge…so let’s vent for a few minutes…come on Deni, what do you think about our Christmas things taken?”

“I’m mad…I feel like someone stole our Christmas…why did this happen to us?”

Ryan empathized. “I understand…that’s how I felt…Benjie what about you, how do you feel about the decorations being stolen?”

Benjie blinked his eyes, still thinking for a moment. “I…I’m mad too…I wanted a real Christmas this year…but someone stole it.”

“I understand…it hurts…Corb, what do you think about all this?”

Corby squirmed in his seat, thinking of what to say. He propped up his sad face with both hands, elbows on his knees. “It stinks!”

Ryan and Caitlin held back a chuckle upon hearing Corby’s modern idiom to express his sadness.

“Alright everyone, now we’ve had a little time to vent, do you think we can forgive?”

Caitlin looked lovingly at each of the boys and added her thoughts. “I’ve had some of the same feelings…why did this happen…the boys have been through so much already and they were looking forward to having a Christmas tree, just a little tree…why…why this? And we waited a few days to tell you to try and figure it out…what to do…you know…and like Ryan, I..I knew I had to forgive the one who stole the decorations, so I did forgive them…and I had a little conversation with God about it…asked God if he would provide something even better. Boys, do you think you could forgive, knowing God is good and he will provide?”

Ryan added, “To forgive means that you release the person who wronged you, release them to God. You let God take care of disciplining the person who wronged you. And you keep no feelings of hate or revenge toward the person who wronged you. You look to God to take care of you and you trust God’s goodness. Make sense?”

Denver asked, “Does it mean we can ask God to punish them and then just leave it be?”

“Sort of. Your part is to simply hand them over to God. Even ask God to bless them with their needs. That’s hard, I know. But once you do forgive, it brings healing to you…you know the hurt you said you felt…forgiveness heals your hurt.”

Caitlin added, “If you feel like you can honestly pray to God right now and ask God to take care of the one who stole the decorations, we’ll help you. Ryan can lead the prayer. What do you think, ready to forgive?”

Denver slowly lifted his head and said, “I guess I’m ready.” Then Benjie and Corby both reluctantly said, “Me too.”

“Father God, here we are, Caitlin and I, Deni, Benjie, Corby. We come to you, the one who knows everything, sees everything, and you know the one who stole the decorations. We know stealing is wrong. We commit the one who stole our Christmas things to you for your care and discipline, knowing you are just and righteous in all your ways. We forgive them. You have also asked us to bless our enemies. So we ask that you would bless this person we have forgiven with all their needs this Christmas season and that they would know the real reason we celebrate Christmas. You have given us the best gift of all, your Son, so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. Amen.”

Ryan looked up and said, “Whoever agrees with this prayer say Amen.” And everyone said, “Amen.”

Caitlin with the excitement of holding a secret, looked at Ryan. “Should we let the boys know the good news now?” He nodded his head yes.

“Now that we have taken care of the bad news, the good news is that the Grands have invited us over to celebrate Christmas Eve at their house. And they went all out and decorated a Christmas tree, put up lights and…and…they bought gifts for everyone. What about that?” As Caitlin broke the good news, it was glorious to behold, little faces so sad moments ago, now lit up with surprise and delight. Celebrating with applause. Jumping up and down.

Chapter Eight

For many days, Ryan, Caitlin and the kids, including the Jaspers had been asking God, Why…Why God?…Why a house fire? What are we to do now?

They had been trying to teach the kids to trust God, and now a fire.

A fire that destroyed the Walker’s house just before Christmas seemed too much for anyone to understand. Especially the kids. They had lost their parents–had to adjust to a new home–new foster parents–bullied at school–then they had the flu–then their Christmas decorations and gifts were stolen. Now they had lost their house to a fire.

How were they to explain God’s goodness with all this happening? They couldn’t explain it. They simply had to trust God.

Caitlin reviewed over and over the memory of that night, trying to figure out why a fire would break out in the kitchen. She had gotten up around midnight to feed Ava. She had warmed the bottle in a bottle warmer, certain that she had turned it off. She had gone to her rocking chair, fed baby Ava, burped her, rocked her to sleep and went back to bed. Everyone else had been sleeping soundly until the smoke alarm jolted them out of bed a few hours later.

The dogs barking and wining had led the way for the kids running out into the hallway. Ryan seeing flames from the kitchen had quickly herded the kids and the dogs out the front door, while Caitlin had run to grab baby Ava from her crib and then out the front door. Ryan had remained by the front door until everyone else was out, reminding them of the fire drill they had practiced, to meet at the mailbox at the end of the driveway. He had already grabbed his keys and phone from the nightstand next to their bed and on his way out to meet the others at the mailbox, he had called 911.

The fire emergency crew had arrived just after something had exploded, which they confirmed later was the gas line. Most of the house was gone, including the Jeep and the garage.

Yet they were thankful everyone had safely gotten out, not one hair singed. Then thankful to the Grands, for allowing them to move into their house until they could get their own house rebuilt. Thankful to church friends who had gathered a donation of clothing for the kids, old clothes their own children had outgrown, coats, hats, gloves, jeans, shirts and boots. Thankful for the other clothing items and personal items purchased with gift cards that had been given to them.

Christmas holiday was only two weeks away and even though the loss of their house had left them greatly disappointed, they found strength to rejoice in God’s faithful provision.

As if loosing their house were not enough grief to bear, Caitlin and Ryan soon learned from their social worker, Charlotte, that the kids would have to be put in another foster home. Perhaps divided up into different homes since the Walkers would not have their own home for at least six months. Charlotte was working very hard to have the action stalled at least until after Christmas.

The thought of losing the kids was almost too much to bear. Ryan and Caitlin cried out to God, cried out in anguish, moaning in prayers without words, not only for themselves but for the kids. For now, they spared the kids from knowing about the possible separation to different foster homes. Instead, they hoped with all their heart for God’s intervention.

Chapter Nine

Junia had to be creative to fit two adults and four children into two spare bedrooms, which used to be John and Caitlin’s rooms. Baby Ava would be comfortable for a few more weeks in a cradle in the same room with Caitlin and Ryan. The three boys squeezed into the other small room with Corby sleeping on a cot. And to give them more space to play, Jas set up a small tent in the family room where they could sleep or play camping. He put a small string of lights around the frame and named it Snoopy’s house, inspired by the Christmas movie they had just watched–Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy, had decorated his dog house with lights and ornaments.

Then Junia, not to be outdone, made a large bag of Puppy Chow, a snack made with rice cereal coated with melted chocolate and peanut butter and then dusted with powdered sugar.

Junia smiled with pride as she handed the bag to Denver. “Kids, you can eat the Puppy Chow in the tent, but be very careful not to let the dogs get any because they’re allergic to chocolate. It would make them very sick.”

The three brothers dashed off to the tent and retrieved a large tin with lid, an empty popcorn container, they had been given earlier. There they stashed the snack mix to eat later. Jas had brought out a box of John’s old comic books for them to read with flashlights inside the tent. It was enough to keep them busy for awhile.

Ryan and Jas had secretly gone out to shop for games to give the boys for Christmas gifts, to replace games they had lost in the fire. It began to snow on their way into the store.

Ryan chuckled at memory of the last snow and turned to Jas and said, “I hope your car will start when we’re finished shopping…and let’s not store any gifts in the trunk this time.”

Jas raised one eyebrow as he looked at Ryan and then smiled. “Sounds like you’re wanting just a regular shopping trip…uneventful…boring…where’s all the joy in that?” Then he firmly patted him on the back. “I understand.”

“Nothing’s boring with you around Jas!” Jas laughed his belly laugh, a laugh that brought smiles to all nearby. Then coming up to the door where the Salvation Army Santa was ringing a bell, he pulled out a Christmas card with a dollar bill inside and candy cane attached and placed it in the bucket. He usually carried a few of these Christmas cards with him to hand out during the Christmas season.

One starry night long ago, God came down, a baby born in Bethlehem!
Hosts of Angels said to Israel–Go see The Lamb, the Son of God, perfect Lamb of sacrifice!
Wise men too–Gentiles from the east–came to seek the Savior of Mankind.
Now every wise man will seek the King their souls to save.
Awaiting the day the King will come again in glory!
Hallelujah!
Come Lord Jesus!

Just before Christmas the Jaspers attended the Sunday worship service at Caitlin and Ryan’s church, since the kids had a special choir presentation that day. John, Lynette and Jenna had traveled from Colorado to visit for the holidays, but were staying at a hotel nearby. They had arrived late Saturday evening but came by early in the morning bringing donuts for everyone and to help carpool to the church later.

Jas and Junia greeted them at the door with hugs when they arrived, followed by Caitlin and Ryan and then the new members of the family were introduced.

John shook each of the boys’ hands and then baby Ava’s. “So glad to meet you all, I’m Uncle John.”

He then he pulled his wife, Lynette, close beside him, hugging her around the shoulders, “This is your Aunt Lynette and over there, your cousin Jenna. Be nice to her, because she has the donuts.”

Lynette and Jenna chuckled. “Of course, they will,” said Jenna. “Besides, they have the orange juice, right guys?”

Denver blushed. “I think Grand Jun made orange juice this morning.”

Junia smiled as she corrected. “Actually, it was Grand Jas who fresh squeezed the oranges this morning.”

Jas rubbed his hands together. “Alright everyone to the dining room for breakfast and Ryan will say a prayer.”

“Heavenly Father, thank you for our family and bringing us safely together once again to celebrate Christmas. Bless this breakfast and our time together. May we be a blessing to you as we worship you today. Amen.”

Later at the church service, God blessed the children with voices as angels, touching hearts of the congregation to worship and celebrate God’s goodness in sending his Son. Pastor encouraged his congregation to seek first the kingdom of God and live righteously, trusting everything needed will be provided.

Caitlin and Ryan were especially encouraged the next day when Charlotte called and confirmed the kids could stay with them at the Jaspers home through the Christmas holiday, until at least the first day of January. They got down on their knees and praised God for his faithfulness and thanked him for his intervention. They promised not to worry, but to enjoy the holidays with their families and trust him with the rest.

Later that day, although cold, the sunshine made it warm enough for walking. So Jas escaped from a house full of people and took a brisk walk alone with God. He thanked God for his family and bringing everyone together to celebrate the holiday. He thanked God for the privilege of being his child. Quietly, he enjoyed God’s presence, God hugging him with his love. He heard his phone ringing, but it went to voicemail before he could retrieve the phone from his pocket. He walked the remainder of the block to the neighborhood park and sat down on the bench to check his message. The missed call was from his new friend, Farmer Johnson. Jas wondered if it was news about the bid.

Chapter Ten

It was Christmas Eve and throughout every room of the Jasper household the ambiance of candlelight, pine fragrance mingled with spice and voices softly singing, “Silent Night,” announced a special celebration was taking place.

Denver had been given the honor of reading the Christmas story from the Bible. The golden glow of candlelight from the table next to him softly framed his face as he read from the book of Luke.

“…that night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby…suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared…he said, I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, has been born today in Bethlehem…”

The entire Jasper family, including Ryan, Caitlin, Denver, Benjie, Corby and Ava; John, Lynette and Jenna had gathered in the living room to celebrate the Lord’s advent. Each one had been given a card with a scripture to read, a scripture to tell of the Lord’s birth. Each read in turn, Caitlin read for baby Ava, who was cradled in her arms, with the final reading by Corby. He slowly pronounced each syllable perfectly.

“For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37.”

After singing several Christmas carols together, Jas closed with a prayer. He stood above Junia, placing his hands on her shoulders.

“Father God, words of mine cannot even begin to express all that is in my heart. I’m thankful for all that you have done for our family. You have given us yourself, Lord Jesus, the best gift of all. Salvation. Immanuel, God with us. Thank you. Bless the meal we’re about to share together. May you be blessed with honor as we celebrate your birthday. Amen.”

And everyone said. “Amen!”

Junia stood and kissed Jas on the cheek then turned to everyone with instructions. “Alright everyone, in the kitchen you will find three crockpots of soup, each one labeled with what kind of soup. There are plates, bowls, utensils wrapped in a napkin, different kinds of bread, crackers, cheese, summer sausage, and a vegetable tray with dip. Help yourself, it’s self-serve. Don’t touch the cake yet, that’s for later, Jesus’ birthday cake.”

Everyone gathered to form a line into the kitchen then out to the dining room. Jas had set up the “Jesus of Nazareth” movie on the big screen to play muted along with Christmas music playing softly in the background.

“Mom,” said John. “Thank you for making my favorite soup. Love the way you make potato soup.”

Junia winked at Caitlin. “Thank you John, but Caitlin made the potato soup. It’s my recipe…taught her how to make it years ago, but she made the potato soup today. I made the chicken soup.”

John smiled and nodded his appreciation to Caitlin, while Lynette added. “The chicken soup is great. I’ve never had the patience to make home-made chicken soup, maybe you can teach me how to make it, Jun.”

Junia chuckled, “I know what you mean. Seldom make home-made chicken soup myself. I’ll write out the recipe for you. It’s easy, but it takes time.”

Jenna asked who made the vegetable soup. “I’ve never had vegetable soup made with hamburger…it’s delicious!”

Junia quickly said, “Guess? You’ll never guess who made that soup.”

Benjie spoke up, “I know! It was probably Ryan. He made soup like this at our house. You know, the other house.” He frowned,
“I mean before it burned down.”

Ryan grinned. “Benjie wins the prize.”

Benjie perked up. “What prize did I win?”

Ryan thought for a moment. “Uh, four candy canes. One for you and one for each of your brothers and Jenna. Because you know you have to share.”

Benjie smiled satisfied with that.

After everyone finished dinner and cleared the table, Junia brought out the Christmas cake with candles. Everyone gathered around singing, “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and then nibbled on spice cake while sipping hot apple cider.

Then Jas announced for everyone to gather in the living room to open gifts. He handed out each gift according to the name tag. Everyone was happy to watch the kids opening each gift with surprise and delight, even the adults, until the living room became a sea of wrapping paper.

When everyone became quieter, relaxed, thinking all the gifts were opened and the celebration was winding down, Jas stood up and announced, “Wait…wait everyone, I forgot one gift. Just kidding…no way I could forget this one.” Grinning a non-stop smile, he picked up an envelope off the table and handed it to Caitlin, then to Ryan and then back to Caitlin. “It’s to both of you.”

Caitlin looked puzzled, but carefully opened the envelope, then she handed it to Ryan, “Here, you read it, forgot my glasses.”

Ryan read the letter inside the envelope quietly to himself. His jaw dropped open, stunned, he turned to Caitlin, “It’s…it’s a legal document. It has our names…along with Cornelius and Junia Jasper.” He paused and looked again to be certain. “Owners of the house at Oldfather Lake.”

Caitlin looked up at her parents, dumbfounded. “Mom, Dad, what does this mean…if it means what I think…how did we get that house?”

Jas still smiling, “We won the bid for the house…I asked to have your names added too…so now you have a house to move to right away…you don’t have to wait for your old house to be rebuilt.”

Tears of joy began pouring down Caitlin’s cheeks as she hugged both parents, whispering in their ears, “Thank you.” She looked at Ryan whose eyes brimmed with tears, “Not sure how all this came about, but thank you.” He looked up toward heaven. “Thank you God!”

Junia’s eyes glistened with tears too. “Yes, do thank God, it’s a miracle, no other explanation.”

Everyone in the room began to chatter with each other about what it all meant. John, Lynette and Jenna had heard stories about the house at Oldfather Lake from Jas, but had not yet seen it. Jas explained again how they had discovered the house on their road trip in June and then the kids had fun telling about their camping trip to the lake in July. And Junia added how they discovered the house architecture to be similar to Graceland mansion.

Jas wanted to still doubts and questions for the moment so he offered to take everyone to Oldfather Lake the next day, Christmas day.

Somberly, Jas looked around to everyone in the room. “There are still many details to work through, but bottom line, we placed our hope and trust in God when it looked like our kids could lose everything, especially those dear to them, and God came through right on time.”

Jas led the way for the caravan of family headed out to see the house on Christmas day–the house he had named Mount Hope.

The winding roads looked different with freshly fallen snow. Sunflowers and corn fields had gone to harvest, resting until spring. When safely they arrived, they carried in their baggage, started up the fireplace and the furnace, and checked on everything else that needed checked before they settled in.

They pinched their cheeks to make sure they weren’t dreaming, everyone except the kids. Children accept things as they are, they had no trouble believing it was real. Everyone gathered in the kitchen around the large oak dining table. Caitlin grabbed the rocking chair in the corner by the fireplace to sit with baby Ava, ready to rock her if she needed a nap. Junia got the coffee pot perking and the griddle heated up to make bacon, eggs and pancakes for everyone. Jas brought the juicer and oranges to make juice for everyone.

Relaxing by the fire and watching the snow fall outside–the kids played board games and then played with Rusty and Jazzy out in the snow. When evening came and the kids, baby Ava and the dogs were peacefully sleeping, the adults gathered around the table enjoying conversation and hot chocolate.

Jas took the opportunity to explain more about the essay he had submitted with the bid for the house. Junia had already known about it, but he wanted to talk with everyone else about the details.

“Caitlin, do you remember when we were on our road trip and you called your mother and talked about adoption or taking care of foster children?”

“Uh…oh yeah…I asked you to come home to help with the boys…take them camping.” Caitlin grinned at that memory, it seemed so much had happened since then.

Jas blushed at the thought of revealing his secret. “Since then I started thinking about taking care of foster children myself…I know, at first, I thought I must be crazy, but thought about it more and more, prayed about it…anyway, I felt like God was leading me to bid for the house, but I thought, why would I need such a big house? Then it occurred to me, if I had a big family, foster kids that needed space, the outdoors to explore, time to heal…anyway I wrote in my essay that I wanted to make the house a refuge for foster children…and that’s why I was awarded the house.”

Again Caitlin and Ryan teared up, in awe of all the workings of God in their lives.

Jas continued on as everyone quietly listened. “Anyway, that was my dream, you don’t have to go along with it…but you can stay here until your house is rebuilt and since your name will be on the deed as an owner, that should work to keep you from losing the kids.”

Caitlin and Ryan didn’t know what to say, so Junia added. “Of course, think about it, pray about it. Jas just wanted to let you know the rest of the story.”

They wiped the tears from their eyes. Caitlin clasped her dad’s hands in hers. “Can’t thank you enough dad. Never imagined all this would happen. Of course we’ll pray about it, but can’t imagine God would say no.”

Ryan chuckled. “Thank you both. And I thank God! He’s already answered our prayers.”

Junia stood up, hugged Caitlin and Ryan and then proceeded to wash the dishes. John and Lynette quietly stared out the window, watching snowflakes softly falling on the trees, they too, in awe from all that had transpired.

Jas patted John on the shoulder as he got up to retire for the evening. “John, you and Lynette, Jenna too, you’re all welcome to live here too or visit anytime.”

“It’s tempting–almost as beautiful here as Colorado.” He laughed. “But no, I…I wouldn’t take away space from kids that need it.”

“Good of you–the fourth room you’re staying in now will probably, God willing, be filled with more foster kids soon–but if you decide to come, we’ll just build on another wing– right Caitlin.”

Everyone laughed, thinking about the possibilities, then they hugged each other good night.

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

This story is a fictionalization. Although, historical events, people and places are used fictitiously, details of the time period have been portrayed as accurately as possible for authenticity. All characters are fictional unless otherwise noted. If an actual historical character is mentioned an endnote with citation will be included.

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