“…longing for a better country–a heavenly one…”
After hibernating in the beauty of winter frost, with each new day of warmth, Oldfather Lake slowly awakened restored to its green grandeur–dotted with yellow daffodils, white flowering pear trees and overshadowed by purple royal crowns of blossoming redbud trees–inviting God’s creatures to come out and sing his praises with joy!
It had been a mild winter with plenty of snow, but not cold enough to freeze the lake solid for skating. Yet, even though the kids were disappointed about not using their new skates on the lake, they had plenty of fun sliding down the hill on toboggans.
Denver, now age 11, had celebrated his birthday in January with a pizza party at home along with two new friends from church. They stayed up most of the night playing Super Mario.
Benjie, now age nine, had celebrated his birthday in February with his brothers and a new friend who lived just a few miles away. They had planned a winter cookout-campout, but when it snowed they moved it indoors to the living room.
And Corby planned to celebrate his sixth birthday in May.
Baby Ava, at six months, crawled around after her brothers and the dogs and when waking pulled herself up to a stand, holding onto the rails of her crib, ready to join in the family fun.
Ryan and Caitlin opted for home schooling the kids rather than sending them by bus to different schools miles away. They felt confident in their ability to teach and thought it best for the boys to stay close to family–a time for healing.
Grand Jas and Junia also helped with teaching, especially Junia, since she had been a math teacher.
Ryan continued collaborating with colleagues, working toward starting a small manufacturing business locally.
Caitlin had decided to hold off on resuming her furniture business, yet saving money to replace tools lost in the fire and rebuild another shop in the future. But then her dad, Jas, decided he wanted to work with making furniture and teach the boys the craft as well–so Jas used some money from the sale of their home to invest in tools and planned to build a workshop in the spring.
Junia and Caitlin joined a home schooling coop online to get advice with meeting state education requirements. Jas and Ryan joined the coop too, finding other parents who home schooled children in the surrounding area and invited everyone to a summer camp-out on the grounds at Oldfather Lake. They also planned day trips with other home-schooled kids for educational field trips in the surrounding area.
Charlotte, the family advocate, visited weekly in January and then monthly starting in February, gladly approving the new home and home schooling for the kids.
Ryan and Caitlin continued the evening Bible study and prayer time with the kids. And they were delighted to find a small old-fashioned country church about twenty miles away, Prairie Harvest Church, where they attended worship service with the Grands.
The first week in May arrived and the Walkers invited Charlotte to Corby’s birthday celebration on Friday afternoon. After cake and ice cream, the kids presented to Charlotte their science project—a sketch of a vegetable garden and then with great enthusiasm they escorted her to the garden where they had worked hoeing, planting seedlings and mulching.
Denver proudly led the way from the parlor, a small formal living room to one side of the grand foyer of the front entrance. To the other side was the library. From the grand foyer, a guest’s eyes were led to focus on the majestic view of the tapestry covered staircase after having come from the outside entrance graced with two white royal columns–a visitor’s first impression was that royalty must live here.
Corby followed, walking beside Charlotte through the family room, then through the dining room and out the French doors to the cobble-stone patio. Straight ahead at a distance stood a gazebo inviting guests to comfort themselves in its quiet beauty. Adorned by flowering hedges and skirted with pink and purple petunias–a place of solace to individual visitors, yet large enough to house a joyous family celebration—and when quieted from noisy humans, bumblebees and hummingbirds stopped by to feed on the flowers before going on to the vegetable garden was close by.
Benjie raced ahead along the stone pathway with Rusty and Jazzy to turn off the sprinkler coming from the well pump. Next to the garden was the shed housing lawn tools, mowers and the controls for the sprinkler system.
Rusty, panting and out of breath, laid down beside the shed under a large oak tree while Jazzy played in a stream of water spilling over the garden fencing. Then Jazzy shook himself dry, just as Benjie came up behind him, sprinkling Benjie with water from head to toe.
Charlotte, observing the whole scene while on her way, laughed quietly to herself. “Looks like someone needs a towel.”
Denver thinking she was serious offered to go back to the house to get a towel. “Oh, I’m just kidding. With the breeze and sunshine, he’ll dry off in few minutes—unless—do you want a towel Benjie?”
Benjie wiped his arms off with his hands and grinned. “No, I’m okay—used to Jazzy playing in the water—he loves it.”
Charlotte laughed. “I imagine, just as much as you kids like playing in the water too!”
Corby thought of summer and the lake. “Ms. Charlotte you should come out swimming with us sometime at the lake.”
“And fishing too.” Denver added.
“Well thank you. Probably a bit cool now, but perhaps next month…And here is the lovely garden you kids have made—I like the white picket fence you put around—and the scarecrow—how cute—does it work—does it keep the birds away?”
“It has so far.” Denver pointed to a row of lettuce seed with mulching along the ridge. “Over there we have radish, onion—oh, and carrots–and over here, peppers and potatoes. Later we plan to plant tomatoes.”
“Sounds like a good salad growing here—you boys like salad?”
Corby, shaking his head, quickly said, “No! Salad is for Caitlin and Grand Jun—french fries for the guys.”
Denver added, “I like salad with Sriracha Ranch dressing.”
“Me too! And cheese sauce on the fries.” Benjie added.
Charlotte chuckled. “You all are making me hungry again.” While reaching for her cell phone she asked, “Is it alright if I take a picture?”
When they agreed, she instructed their pose beside the garden, then at smiles snapped a photo.
As they walked back to the house, Benjie noticed that Rusty remained under the tree so he went back to check and found him sleeping. Benjie called out to Rusty to come to him, but he stayed—then Benjie picked him up and carried him back to Caitlin. “Rusty seems sick—he was too tired to walk back with us.”
Caitlin cuddled Rusty in her arms. “Ahhh—what’s going on old pal?”
“Benjie let’s give him some water and put him in his doggy bed to rest—we’ll pray he’s better by tomorrow.”
After Benjie left to care for Rusty, Charlotte asked Caitlin if they could meet privately for a few minutes. Then Caitlin led Charlotte to the small library room—it was an office for Ryan, but had two chairs and a small table in front of wall to wall books. After both were seated, Caitlin gave Charlotte her full attention.
“Just before leaving my office today, I received a request for placement. Two children from the same family needing foster care right away. Currently, we don’t have any parents available to take them…”
Caitlin nodded her head with eyes wide open. “Oh, I see—I think you’re asking if we could take them?”
“Could you?” Charlotte, just short of pleading, added, “I know you and Ryan like to discuss things and pray about things, so you can let me know later, but I need to place them by Monday.”
“We do have another room—tell me more about them.”
“Well, they are boys, brothers, ages twelve and fifteen…”
Overnight, while the Walkers and the Grands slept peacefully, including Jazzy on the foot of Benjie’s bed, Rusty took his last breath. Caitlin was the first to discover his departure after getting up early with Ava. Rusty, part everything from Beagle to Spaniel, named for the reddish brown spots in his hair, had played hard, loved everyone, but just wore out–a faithful friend to Caitlin and her family for fourteen years.
Sadly, with tears flowing down her face, she wrapped Rusty in his blanket and took him outside to his favorite tree. “We’ll bury you here old pal. You can rest now in the shade of your favorite tree.”
Jazzy hearing noise leaped off the bed to check on things and Benjie followed. They were looking out the French doors of the dining room when Caitlin returned.
Benjie, noticing Caitlin’s tears, asked, “What’s wrong—where’s Rusty?”
Caitlin sat down in the rocking chair near the fireplace where Ava was playing in her playpen in the dining room. Smiling softly, thinking of how to gently say it. “Rusty has gone to doggy heaven.”
Benjie still groggy from sleep, processed for a few moments exactly what Caitlin had said. “You mean—Rusty’s—do you mean he’s—is he—did he die?”
Caitlin nodded her head with fresh tears welling up in her eyes. “He was a good dog. We’ll miss him very much.”
Benjie hung his head and shuffled back to the door to let Jazzy in, who was now whining at Benjie after finding Rusty under the tree. Caitlin reached for the box of tissues on the lamp table and handed it to Benjie as he silently weeped. Then she took a tissue for herself. Baby Ava sensing distress began to fuss and cry wanting Caitlin to hold her. Picking her up and holding her close and with a comforting arm on Benjie’s shoulder she said, “Let’s go upstairs and let everyone know about Rusty.”
Memories of Rusty as a puppy came to mind as Caitlin trudged up the stairs with Benjie. Hearing commotion and Jazzy whining, Ryan and the Grands had already come out of their rooms and were standing in the balcony at the top of the stairs. Jazzy raced ahead to the boys’ room, whining and barking to awaken Denver and Corby.
“Morning everyone—sadly our Rusty has died overnight.” Ryan hugged his wife with baby Ava crunched in between them. And although saddened himself, Ryan took the lead and arranged a family meeting in the kitchen. He made coffee while his pajama clad family took seats around the big oak table in front of the fireplace. Then he poured juice for the boys and coffee for everyone else.
Jas tried to lighten the mood. “Hey this juice is from the store, not fresh from my juicer, but try to enjoy it anyway—I’ll make pancakes later to make up for it.”
Grand Jun, who usually made pancakes perked up. “Thank you. Then I suppose I’ll have a Saturday holiday.”
“Nooo!” Jas joked, “You get to do the dishes.”
This made Corby and Denver laugh too, along with the Grands.
Upon seeing smiles, Ryan burst in with the reason for the meeting. “Hey everyone, even though we’re sad about Rusty it’s good to see smiles. After breakfast we’ll have a funeral. So everyone be thinking of something you want to say—some special memory you have of Rusty. Let’s pray to start the day and then I’ll go and prepare for the burial–and then everyone meet outside in about two hours.” Everyone nodded in agreement.
“Heavenly Father, thank you for all the years we had Rusty as a special friend. Comfort our hearts as we miss him. Bless our time together today and the meal we’re about to have. Guard our hearts and bless us with love for you and others as we go about our day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
As Jas proceeded to the griddle to make pancakes, Ryan stood to go outside, but Benjie stopped him with a question.
“Ryan, is it true that Rusty went to heaven?”
Caitlin looked at Ryan, biting her lip, not sure what to say. Ryan sat back down to answer Benjie’s question, as well as everyone else, who by now listened intently with strong curiosity.
Ryan gathered his thoughts, remembering his grandmother’s answer to a similar question he had as a young boy. “Honestly, we don’t know for certain, because God hasn’t told us. But in the Bible there are many scriptures that tell us God created all the animals–God loves animals–and in heaven all animals will be tame. Animals don’t have a sin nature like us, like humans–animals were created to live by instinct—in a natural way according to their species. We can study more about it later in our Zoology lessons.”
Benjie’s face lit up along with his brother’s. “Yeah, can we? Especially about dogs!”
Grand Jun volunteered. “Sure! We can do that!”
Ryan continued on with explaining. “I remember when I was young and my dog died—my grandmother said to me,
‘Ryan, you loved your dog so much that he’ll probably go to heaven—because love lasts forever.’”
As most everyone teared up again, Benjie said, “I hope so.”
“Hang onto your hope.” Then turning toward Corby. “Corb, remember the scripture you memorized for Christmas Advent?”
Corby thought for a moment then his eyes lit up. “Yeah! Uh—for nothing is impossible with God!”
Ryan encouraged everyone as he stood to go outside. “Yeah! Remember that everyone.”
The remaining month of May at Mount Hope became somewhat topsy-turvy with the arrival of two new foster kids. For the first few days, Nolan and Evan were like zombies, barely speaking or moving–reminded Caitlin of Denver and his brothers when they had first arrived almost a year ago. Everyone was gentle with the newest family members, understanding the emotional pain and shock of losing their mother and both grandparents recently killed by an intruder in their house. Nolan, the eldest at age fifteen and Evan, age twelve, were fortunate to have been away at the time, staying overnight at a friend’s house.
After the shock wore off anger erupted. They became irritable, quarreling about things that seemed insignificant to everyone else. Then one Sunday morning, Nolan became belligerent when told to get ready for church.
“I Do Not want to go to church. I’ll stay here and watch after Evan.”
Ryan quietly prayed. Lord help me show your love to Nolan.
Evan was making up his bed while Nolan plopped back down on his bed, crossing his feet and picking up a book to read.
Ryan asked with sincere curiosity, “Why is it that you don’t want to go to church?”
“I hate God—so he wouldn’t want me to be at his church.”
“Hmm…you’ve been sitting with us in the evening during Bible study and prayer time…and God is with us here—even right now.”
Nolan remained quiet though fuming with anger inside. Evan sat down in the chair at the study desk feeling caught in the middle, siding with his brother, yet wanting to keep peace. From the doorway, Ryan stepped into the room and plopped down into the bean bag chair on the floor. Purposely remaining calm and relaxed, he prayed out loud.
“Heavenly Father, comfort Nolan and Evan—they’re hurting—it’s hard for us to understand why you took his mother and his grandparents. We’re angry about it—help us to forgive the one who killed them. Lord, heal us.”
Suddenly the idea came to Ryan that Nolan and Evan were going through emotional trauma, like an illness, and when one of the family was sick with a cold or flu the family stayed home from church.
“Nolan—Evan, I think we need to time to heal—emotionally. It could take a few weeks for you to feel comfortable going to church. Let’s gather as a family in the living room or even outside and honor God on the Lord’s Day. What do you think about that?”
Nolan remained quiet but calmed down. Evan smiled and said, “I like the idea of meeting outside.” He turned to Nolan. “Come on Nole, you can enjoy being outside instead of indoors with your book.”
Everyone was quiet with their own thoughts for a few moments. Finally, Nolan agreed as he got up and looked out the window. “Looks like a good day to be outside.”
Ryan rose up out of the bean bag chair, quietly rejoicing, and thinking of where they could meet outside. As it turned out, the whole family worshiped on the dock of the lake, sitting two by two, in chairs they had carried out and baby Ava in her stroller. They sang along with hymns playing from Jas’ iPod and then Ryan read from the scriptures.
“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee), the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God…” Luke 5:1-15
An orphaned Yorkshire terrier turned out to be the surprise guest Caitlin had announced would visit after breakfast one morning in June. The Yorkie, along with his trainer, Bob, who carried him in a basket and then held him in his lap, told Buddy’s bio to the Walkers, the Grands and the kids. Jazzy sniffed at Buddy and wagged his tail indicating he approved of having a new friend. There on the patio, sitting around the table and the stone bench bordering the patio, everyone listened to Bob tell about how Buddy had been a companion to a disabled woman, an elderly woman who had recently passed away.
“So if you all like Buddy and if he likes you—just kidding—Buddy always loves everyone—don’t you Bud?” Bob stroked the Yorkie’s head and Buddy seemed to agree by licking Bob’s hand. “See! Anyway, Buddy needs a new friend to take care of—what do you think?”
Bob put Buddy down next to Jazzy to see how they got along. Jazzy sniffed his approval and then jaunted out onto the grass and back again coaxing Buddy to follow him. By now, Benjie and Corby ran after them too. Then Denver got a small plastic ball for Jazzy to play with.
Grand Jas remembered the first time he had met the kids and Jazzy (his namesake). He whispered to Junia, “This little dog is a perfect match for these kids. You wait and see.”
Junia glowed with joy for the kids as she nodded in agreement, quietly thanking God from her heart.
Everyone watched with amusement as the dogs and the boys played ball—Buddy scooting the ball on the ground with his snout, then one of the boys picking up the ball, throwing it, while Jazzy retrieved the small plastic ball in his mouth. Nolan and Evan also joined in the fun, throwing a Frisbee. Baby Ava was taking a nap otherwise she would be wanting to get down on the grass and play too.
Evan sat down on the grass near the patio, picking up the little Yorkie to hold in his lap, who was content to rest while his new friend stroked his back. “We’ll share Jazzy’s dog treats with you here in a bit—how ‘bout that?”
Then Nolan sat down next to Evan taking a turn to hold and pet Buddy.
Bob was encouraged. “I see Buddy already has new friends!”
Caitlin and Ryan agreed, happy to see just what they were hoping for—Nolan and Evan embracing their new doggy. Soon after Rusty died, Caitlin had called Bob, the trainer who had given them Jazzy, and asked if he had any puppies or dogs for their new foster kids. And now they hoped that Buddy would help Nolan and Evan adjust just as Jazzy had helped the other boys.
Cornelius Jasper, called Grand Jas by the kids, was determined to see to it that Mount Hope lived up to his vision—a place of healing for hurting kids. Feeling called by God to rescue heartbroken children from the darkness that could swallow them up—he embraced the challenge with the new kids, Nolan and Evan–alerted by wisdom that these two would indeed be a greater challenge than the other kids had been. Knowing that each child is unique, with different temperaments while struggling with a sin nature that all humanity has been infected with; and then in addition struggling with spiritual wounds, emotional wounds and even physical wounds or disabilities—Grand Jas and Jun found themselves on their knees in prayer to God daily for the patience and wisdom needed to truly help these kids find their way.
Fishing and camping had always been Jas’ therapy—a get away from the world—closer to God’s creation—a time of contemplation or just having fun. He was thankful God had led him back to Oldfather Lake and now even owner of a property with plenty of camping and fishing—yet it was all for the kids that God would send to him.
Jas kept his word to the home-schooled kids in the surrounding communities and hosted a campout at Oldfather Lake one weekend in June.
Since early spring he worked at getting the lake properly stocked with fish, landscaped and mapped with the help of a professional lake management service his son, John, had recommended. The previous owner had already done extensive landscaping since Jas had last seen the lake when he was a teenager. Then the lake had only a few clumps of trees here and there but now almost the entire lake was surrounded by willows, cypresses, and oak trees. However, a clearing had been left near the boat ramp and the dock.
The campout turned out to be a big event, bigger than he had first imagined. In order to host two families, who also had girls, it was decided to divide the camp ground into one for the boys and a separate one for the girls. Jas, Ryan and two other fathers watched over the camp of ten boys and Caitlin along with two other mothers watched over the camp of seven girls. At the evening meal they all met together around the campfire, except for Grand Jun who stayed with baby Ava and one other toddler at the house.
In late May, Jas and his daughter, Caitlin, had taken a break from building the furniture workshop and built an outdoor shower and outhouse to accommodate temporary outdoor campers. Jas was encouraged when Nolan and Evan took an interest in the building project. They often sat nearby to watch, asking questions and asking if they could build a treehouse later.
Jas paused from hammering, thinking that perhaps this could be the first building project for the boys. “I remember my son John wanted to build a treehouse when he was about your age,” he told the boys. “We found out that a treehouse requires just the right trees, in just the right place and we didn’t have that at our old house so we never built a tree house. But it’s possible with all the trees around here that we could find just the right place for a tree house…we’ll study more about it later and then you boys can start looking.”
Between studies, chores, swimming and fishing, all the boys searched for the perfect place, but by the time of the June campout the best tree for building the treehouse was yet to be found.
In time Nolan and Evan became more comfortable with their new family, yet not without moments of disagreements, testing authority, and spats of one-upmanship between the elder and the younger of the boys. Nolan found great fun in playing pranks on Denver—pranks designed to embarrass Denver in a way that made Nolan feel superior. Then Evan, the peacemaker, smoothed things over with Denver, Benjie and Corby eventually becoming good friends with the three, especially Denver. However, Nolan, because of his pranks that were borderline mean along with his pride that prevented him from be remorseful about it, made him an outsider. Nolan knew he needed to change yet he consoled himself with thoughts of soon turning sixteen and dreams of escaping, but to where he did not know.
Late on Friday morning after homeschoolers arrived and set up camp including the campfire the short time left in the afternoon was free time—choice of resting, hiking, swimming or fishing. Jas and the other men leading the campout had decided their theme should be learning survival skills so Saturday was scheduled with a full day of learning to find water, sanitize the water, make a fire, and sheltering if stranded in the wilderness.
After everyone settled in, Jas and Ryan held a short meeting with everyone just before a light picnic lunch. Caitlin and her boys sat in front of them, spread out on heavy blankets. Just behind them, Mark and Jeanie Myers gathered around weathered picnic tables with their family of five and three friends along with Chuck and Carol Clark and three of their children with three friends, while their youngest son, just a toddler, stayed at the house with Junia.
Mark and Jeanie lived in the same county, about twelve miles away, a beautiful estate surrounded by sunflower fields. They had two boys, Jason and Jarod, same age as Denver and Benjie. Jason brought along his friend, Mason and his sister, Marty brought with her two friends, Lori and Bridgett.
Chuck and Carol, lived in the next county, about twenty miles away, with a long-time family heritage of wheat farming. Their eldest son, Wynn, age sixteen, brought Aaron with him, a friend from church. The Clarks also had two daughters, Crystal and Macy, ages thirteen and eleven and each brought a friend of the same age, Melody and Sunny.
At the meeting a map of the lake property was passed out to each camper with all the adult’s cell phone numbers and the camp rules printed on the back. While all campers patiently waited for lunch, Ryan quickly reviewed the rules out loud.
“Rule number one—Have fun!” Everyone laughed.
“Rule two—be safe. Travel with your buddy or buddies at all times. And no, we are not referring to the Yorkie, but to your assigned camp buddy…”
Later during free time, Nolan and his camp buddies Wynn and Aaron decided to go hiking to explore the woods around the lake. Nolan commented that he was looking for the perfect tree to build a tree house and then after Wynn and Aaron showed no interest in tree houses he realized he must seem very immature being a year younger and not yet able to drive. Wynn and Aaron talked on and on about the wheat harvest, and driving the new tractors with lights at night, and saving their earnings to buy a truck. Aaron talked about earning extra money by competing at the rodeo. Again he felt like an outsider, but this time not because he had annoyed his new friends with pranks. All these things were new to Nolan, who grew up in the city. He had never been to a rodeo and he didn’t know anything about harvesting wheat, only that he liked sugar-coated, puffed-wheat cereal.
Ryan accompanied Denver, Benjie, Corby, Evan, Jason, Jarod, and Mason along with Jazzy and Buddy, as they hiked in a different direction. They wanted to get a head start on the survival skill activity and find a stream for gathering drinking water. Jazzy and Buddy stayed close to Benjie and Evan most of the time, following them wherever they went and sleeping beside them at night.
Caitlin, Carol and Jeanie went along with all the girls to the dock for swimming while Jas took Chuck and Mark to his favorite fishing spot on the lake hoping to catch enough fish to fry later for dinner, but no pressure because they had plenty of hot dogs and hamburgers. Jas trusted Wynn and Aaron to watch over Nolan and keep him out of trouble. They were known by the church members and others in the community to be very reliable teenagers and he hoped that they would become good friends and mentor Nolan.
Aaron’s enthusiasm for bronc riding and tie-down calf roping captured Nolan’s curiosity—he asked Aaron to explain. As Aaron described in detail the competition rules Nolan envisioned himself riding on a horse in record time. He could do that, he thought. No problem. “Can I go watch you at the rodeo next time you compete?”
Happy for a new friendship beginning, Wynn invited Nolan to the next competition. “Come along with our church youth group. We’re goin’ to cheer Aaron on at the Rodeo next weekend.”
“Yeah! I will.” Nolan blushed. “Well, I have to ask Ryan, but I’m sure he’ll let me go.”
“He can come too—our youth pastor and his wife are goin’ with us!”
Nolan grinned and gave a thumbs up as the three turned around to head back to camp. Wynn and Aaron purposely chattered on about wheat harvest, then the harvest festival and everything they could think of, not wanting to talk about the tragedy in Nolan’s life. Everyone at church knew the new orphaned kids recently came to Mount Hope because their parents were murdered. They thought it was just too horrible to talk about, not yet anyway. However, they held out compassion and friendship to them, wanting to help in any way they could.
Rising early with the sunrise Saturday morning, campers groggy from sleep, followed the aroma of coffee and bacon frying to the tables near the campfire. Jas and Ryan cheerfully greeted everyone since they had already been up for an hour quietly praying and reading the Bible before preparing breakfast. While Caitlin and Carol went to the house to check on their babies, to feed them and comfort them just as they had done the evening before, Ryan and Jas led a morning devotional. Campers drank coffee or juice while Ryan read the fourth chapter of John in Bible.
“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?…Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’”
Then Jas stood and commented on the scripture Ryan had read. “Jesus taught spiritual truth to people along the way in common situations as they went about their day. With the Samaritan woman, who was drawing water from the well, Jesus used the metaphor of water to proclaim Salvation. Water is required to sustain life, without it we would die in just a short time. Without water to drink a person can die within 3 to 6 days. Likewise, without faith in Jesus, the Son of God, we will die spiritually.
“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” John 7:38-39.
“The scripture Jesus referred to was from Isaiah.”
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Isaiah 12:3
“So I encourage everyone to drink freely from the water of life, by trusting Jesus. In our survival skills training today, as we search for a water resource, think about searching for truth–seek the Lord with all your heart, as for water, as if your life depended on it—because it does.”
Jas finished the devotional time with prayer.
“Heavenly Father, thank you for sending us your Son so we can have life eternal. And thank you for the scriptures, the living stories you recorded that show us the way to you. Let these words of truth we have been heard today take root in our hearts. May there be great joy from drawing water from the wells of salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“If anyone has questions, please ask Ryan or me. For now, we are going out in search of a clean water source…”
Ryan explained the process of searching for water, the do’s and don’ts. “We have only one hour to find water and return to the camp. So don’t drink the water you find. We have plenty of bottled water for you here. This is only a practice in learning survival skills.”
Campers divided up into groups with each group led by an adult. When Caitlin and Carol returned to help Jeanie with the girls they decided that all the ladies would stay together in one group even though the guys divided up into three groups.
Everyone had a good laugh when each group ended up in the same place—the most beautiful section of the winding stream–bordered by boulder stones and spikes of wild green grasses blowing in the breeze. All stood near where the stream flowed slowly, as it gently sloped downward toward a short, boulder waterfall before going on toward the lake. After taking a picture with their cell phones, they gathered stream water in a large cup and headed back to learn the sanitizing process.
Jas and Ryan demonstrated filtering the water through cloth, sand, pebbles and charcoal. But then after the very tedious process, Jas quickly retrieved a commercial water filter from his tent.
“But wait, if you have one of these water filters, just pour the water in like this and you’re all done—it’s safe to drink.”
At first thought, the women were astonished, but then became perturbed–thinking, why did we just go through all this? The kids looked perplexed. And the men laughed.
Chuck looked at Carol who still had a smirk on her face. “Carol, not everyone who gets stranded in the wilderness will have a water filter handy.”
Carol disagreed. “Who’s going to have sand or charcoal available?”
Jas explained further. “If there’s no sand, you can use pebbles…charcoal can be left over cinders from a fire…but if you have a fire and a pot you can also boil the water…which brings us to our next activity—starting a fire…whoever doesn’t start a fire, without matches, won’t have any meat to eat for dinner.” He laughed as he added, “But don’t worry we have peanut butter and jelly.”
Jeanie spoke up with a laugh in her voice. “Well, what I just learned is to always carry a water filter plus peanut butter and crackers in my bag. Ha!”
Mark chided his wife for her practicality. “Jeanie you’re spoiling all the fun of learning to be like a wild woman—oh–I mean–a woman in the wild.”
All the adults laughed to tears except the younger kids who still looked perplexed as they were thinking, how on earth are we going to start a fire without matches?
Ryan, who was in charge of the fire activity, instructed everyone to move over to another area, still close to the camp, away from trees and with bright sunlight shining down upon them. “Caitlin, may I borrow your eyeglasses?”
Caitlin trustingly handed over her eyeglasses to her husband and then Ryan organized the younger kids to sit on the ground in a circle and everyone else to stand behind them forming another larger circle around them. Then he chose Jason to hold the eyeglasses at a particular angle allowing sunlight to shine through the lens directly upon dried leaves that Mason had put on the ground. Mason watched for sparks to fan into a flame.
Fortunately, a cloudless blue sky with sunshine shining hotly and directly overhead was helpful to their experiment.
Patiently, they watched and waited for a spark. After a few tries, sunlight came through the eyeglass at just the right angle so that the sunbeam radiated heat and ignited the dried leaf. However, it quickly died out.
Then Macy wanted a turn at holding the eyeglass while Melody and Sunny fanned the spark on the dried leaf. After it ignited Jason quickly added more dried leaves and then small sticks. Marty, Lori and Bridgett placed rocks around the fire in a circular fashion for safety and everyone stood back as they watched the fire kindle to a blaze.
Ryan watched the faces of the kids who became wide-eyed with wonder. “Now kids—don’t try to start fires like this at home,” he warned. “We’re learning this just for emergencies. You should never play with fire just for fun.”
Mark supported Ryan’s warning. “Yes kids, I can tell you plenty of true stories about raging wildfires burning down acres of land starting from a small spark like that.”
Denver, Benjie and Corby looked somber, remembering the fire at Christmas time that burned down their house. Caitlin realizing what the boys must be thinking about added, “Fire can be very dangerous as you kids remember how fortunate we were to get out of our burning house safely.”
Corby teared up at the memory. Then Ryan told their new friends the story of how Jazzy, Rusty and the smoke-alarm, yet ultimately God, awoke them in time to escape their house on fire.
Jas brought the water hose to Corby. “Here Corby, you get to put out this fire—we’re going to use the campfire we already have for cooking hamburgers.”
The other kids groaned over the end to their fun, not understanding how Denver, Benjie and Corby would receive satisfaction in putting out the fire.
After a few more activities to learn skills of sheltering and finding food, campers rested with quiet thoughts about all the good things God had provided for them that weekend. They had shelter, food and water, things they had not appreciated so much before. Even having grumbled in their heart for having to get out of their comfortable homes for the weekend. Yet now they felt the serenity of gratefulness.
While campers regathered around the campfire after a refreshing swim in the lake, it became apparent that Nolan, in an awkward way, was attracted to the Clark’s eldest daughter, Crystal. It was obvious to everyone nearby, especially to Crystal. Crystal’s younger sister, Macy, giggled and whispered to her friend Sunny to watch Nolan. However, Crystal smiled with amusement and remained gracious and polite to Nolan even while her friend, Melody, whispered snide remarks about it.
Ryan thanked God for the timeliness of the lesson he had prepared for the evening. “Everyone continue to gather ’round. Relax. Help yourself to all the food on the tables. Make smores if you want, sip iced tea…” He pulled up a lawn chair in the middle of everyone. “We’ll discuss another survival skill–I think it’s the most important one…so while you’re eating, try to digest what you’re hearing too.”
Ryan took his Bible and reviewed some notes. “The first survival skill is first because without Christ we can’t do the others. So first—trust Christ for Life: We’re all dead in our sin, but because of God’s great love, he has made us alive in Christ—it is by grace we have been saved, through faith, not by works—it is a gift of God—for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works—believe in Christ for Life.
“Wynn or Aaron—both of you were recently baptized as new believers in Christ—will one of you explain briefly what that means to you?”
Wynn covered his mouth as he was caught with a mouth full of hamburger so Aaron spoke up as he laughed a bit. “I’ll tell my testimony since Wynn’s mouth is busy.”
“Thank you Aaron, go ahead. We’ll save another question for Wynn later.”
“Being a new believer means that I have—you know–I’m a sinner and I need a Savior—I believe that Jesus died to take my punishment—Jesus is perfect, so he didn’t have to die for sinners, but he did it anyway because he loves people. And all I have to do is believe.”
“Good Aaron. Does your faith in Christ mean you can still do whatever you want—things that you know are wrong?”
Aaron blushed a bit. “No sir. I have to try to do right, but Jesus will help me.”
“That’s right. Thank you for sharing Aaron. So after we trust Christ for Life the second survival skill is: Walk in the way of love and wisdom.
“Hide God’s word in your heart—God’s word is a lamp for your feet, a light on your path. For the Lord gives wisdom—from his mouth come knowledge and understanding—wisdom and discretion will guard and protect you from the ways of the wicked. Love is patient, kind, does not dishonor others and always protects the purity of others.
“Wynn, as mentioned earlier, you also trust Christ for Life, so what does it mean to you to walk in the way of love and wisdom?”
“Thank you for another chance to win the prize” Ryan chuckled as Wynn prepared to answer. “I heard you say earlier—hide God’s word in your heart—that’s what I try to do every day-mostly at night before going to sleep, I read the Bible.”
“Good, good. So let’s role play a bit. Tell us how you would walk in the way of love, for example, if—if perhaps you find yourself very attracted to a particular young lady?”
Some of the girls giggled while Wynn blushed and chuckled a bit. “Well, actually we’ve been discussing dating, marriage and discipleship in our church youth group.”
“So I didn’t give you too hard of a question?”
“No sir—happy to share what we’re learning.” Wynn took a sip of cola and sat back in his chair. “So, you asked about being attracted to someone—the first consideration is to see someone the way Christ sees them. Everyone needs the Savior. Share the message of Salvation. Show respect to everyone. Always promote purity in relationships. I think the Bible says, let there not be any hint of sexual immorality, so that means to avoid being alone with a lady to prevent misunderstandings and temptations. Instead of dating alone, think more about building friendships in a group setting.”
“Sounds good. Thank you Wynn. You’re leaning some good stuff. In other words when we walk in the way of love, protecting the purity of others, we do not facilitate darkness by causing someone else or ourselves to sin against God. Live as children of light. Shine like a star.”
Wynn smiled brightly. “Yes sir!”
“And that brings us to the third survival skill—fight the good fight. So once we trust Christ for Life and we know we need to walk in the way of wisdom and love—how do we sinners have the power to live wisely and lovingly?”
Aaron quickly answered. “By the Spirit!”
“Yes—by the Spirit and the word of God.” Ryan flipped the pages of his Bible and began reading. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…watch and pray, the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, keep God’s word in your heart so you know what pleases him–walk in the Spirit to not fall to the desires of the flesh and whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…”
As Ryan closed his Bible and leaned back in his chair to relax and sip his tea, Mark applauded. “Thank you Ryan. I wish someone had taught me this survival skill when I was a teenager—I had to wait till I was a rowdy college dude to learn it.”
The other adults clapped and echoed thank you as the kids quietly had their own thoughts about whatever–some thinking about walking in the way of Christ, while others tuned out–thinking more about juicy burgers, melted chocolate and marshmallows.
Sunday morning, after breakfast, campers with lawn chairs gathered at the dock on the lake to worship and honor God. Junia and Carol brought baby Ava and the Clark’s toddler in strollers. Wynn and Aaron sat in a canoe anchored to the dock. Surrounded with the stillness of the water, sparkling with rays of sunshine, hearts quieted with awareness of God’s presence.
Sleepy souls awakened with heartfelt praise as Chuck played his guitar and Carol led everyone in singing an old hymn.
♫Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father…
all I have needed thy hand hath provided…♫
Family Fun, Work and Rodeos
Now that Nolan looked forward to rodeo competitions he lost interest in building a tree house, therefore it was no longer important to Evan either. Nolan discovered the gazebo near the garden provided a safe, quiet place to hide out until Denver cooled off from one of his jokes.
One such time he had found Jas “hiding” in the gazebo too, who with Bible in hand gently imparted words of wisdom from the Proverbs.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Nolan stared at Grand Jas wondering how he knew about his “harsh word” to Denver. It had only been a few minutes since he ran out of the house to hide after calling him a “dweeb.”
Nolan had no idea at the time that these words of wisdom would take root in his heart and help him change.
For a long time Nolan and Evan had dreamed of having a tree house for a secret place to meet with friends, but now that they were older and everything had changed a club house no longer seemed relevant.
However, even though a treehouse was no longer on the project list, Jas enlisted all the boys, even the youngest, to help with finishing the furniture workshop. The foundation, framing, flooring and siding, including windows had already been done. In design, as much as possible, natural wood from the ceiling beams to the floors prevailed. An electrician came to install the wiring for lighting and power tools. Finishing walls, trimming windows, lots of windows and building shelves for tools and supplies was now at hand.
Caitlin joined in too during Ava’s naps or while Grand Jun watched over her.
First, the kids observed and practiced safety and clean up; then they observed cutting, sawing, sanding, and learned how to read a blueprint. At times the boys became bored from just watching, so in between carrying wood and sheetrock they made wood puzzles and building blocks for baby Ava. They copied a picture from Corby’s coloring book to make a pattern for the puzzle pieces, then while they watched, Caitlin cut the pieces with a special tool and later the boys sanded and painted the pieces. These smaller projects gave them satisfaction and joy of accomplishment while preparing them for work on the shelves as a team with Jas and Caitlin.
While the boys were busy with learning carpentry, Ryan met with the local Chamber of Commerce and business leaders from other states to initiate the start of a small business—manufacturing HOCL systems.
Even though the boys worked hard finishing the workshop they had plenty of fun swimming, fishing and canoeing in the lake. And Nolan, Evan, and Denver were allowed to go with the church youth group to watch Aaron in the rodeo competition–if they agreed to attend church on Sunday mornings. Nolan no longer objected to attending church, since Wynn and Aaron would be there. And also Crystal.
Yet his feelings about God, on hold, as it were, with new things to stew about, while on the back burner still entertaining thoughts of escaping. However, more often he began thinking of taking advantage of the situation he was already in.
Denver and Evan became good friends spending most of their time together even when quietly studying or reading. Yet Denver remained close to his younger brothers, Benjie and Corby, and baby sister Ava–watching over them, protective over them, just as he had done when they were in a “troubled” home.
Benjie prayed to accept Salvation one evening during the family Bible study time and a few days later, Denver and Corby said they wanted to be like Benjie, to believe in Christ and be baptized too. Ryan, Caitlin and the Grands were so happy to see them baptized at Sunday morning church service, holding onto hope that the other boys and Ava would also someday be baptized by faith in Jesus.
Corby took on the role of teacher/mentor to baby sister, Ava. He proudly sat with her showing her how to build the blocks he and his brothers had made, while calling out the letter of the alphabet engraved on each block. He had in mind to teach her how to read. Grand Jun had planted that idea. She required a daily quiet time of reading for all the boys, usually while Ava took her nap. They could choose the Bible or one of the books in the library to read. Watching television or movies and playing games was limited and supervised.
All the boys had their assigned chores to do early in the morning—keeping their rooms clean, including their own bathroom in each room, taking out trash, weeding, hoeing and watering the vegetable garden. They learned quickly that it was worthwhile to be done with their chores early so that they could enjoy other activities later. The older boys, Nolan, Denver and Evan were also learning about lawn care, mowing, trimming and weeding. Nolan was itching to try the riding lawn mower since he thought it would be similar to driving a car. He longed to have a car of his own. But much of the lawn was on an incline because the house was on a hilltop so Ryan warned them not to mow the hill around the house, only the level lawn in back around the gazebo area and only with the push mower. Only Ryan or Jas used the riding mower.
However, after a few weeks of mowing the excitement changed to yet another mundane chore to complete. Yet with fulfilment in a job well done and the thrill of earning money. Ryan set up savings accounts for each of the kids so that they could save the money earned when working in the furniture shop or helping with the lawn. Having a savings account inspired them to dream about the future—buying a car, going to college, and preparing for career.
And Ryan taught them about tithing and giving—acknowledging our dependence on the Sovereign God, giver of all good things and also giving to the poor, because for whatever reason, there are always poor among us who depend on the generosity of others and God is pleased when we remember them.
The Mount Hope kids became regular attenders at the rodeo, along with the other youth from church. To them rodeo was just a sporting event, something fun to do with friends, but for Nolan his love of rodeo grew with each time he watched Aaron and the other cowboys compete. He dreamed of competing for the prize money, and buying a truck, but also just for the thrill of bareback riding a steer, barrel racing or tie-down calf roping.
After arriving to competitions, instead of staying with the youth group in the arena seats, Nolan began slipping away and hanging out with Aaron and the other cowboys while they were competing–close up and studying their moves he was learning to be a cowboy. Aaron tried to answer all his questions, but at times he introduced Nolan to one of the other cowboys to explain more details and rules.
One such cowboy, Caleb, just before mounting a steer for bareback riding, invited Nolan to the ranch where he worked. “Come out with Aaron sometime and we’ll teach you how to ride the steers.”
Nolan watched Caleb hold on with stubborn courage, just a few seconds longer than the previous cowboy, winning applause and the competition for the evening. He was even more thrilled to meet Caleb’s boss, Mr. Woods, the ranch owner where he worked.
“Everyone calls me Woody. Nice to meet ya Nolan. Aaron and Caleb mentioned you’ve been shadowing them, learning the ropes.”
Nolan almost blushed. “Yeah—I–I’ve learned a lot from them!”
Mr. Woods looked pleased. “Come out for dinner after church on Sunday–we’ll give you a free lesson–bareback riding or calf roping—just for fun.”
“I will—can’t wait.” Nolan noticed Evan waving for him to come since the youth group was leaving. As he turned to hurry for the bus he said, “I see my brother calling–need to go for now, but I’ll see ya Sunday Mr. Woods.”
Sunday could not come soon enough for Nolan until finally he was sitting in the huge dining room of the Woods’ ranch. He had met Mrs. Woods, elderly yet spry like her husband. She introduced him to all her children and grandchildren by showing all the photos and portraits displayed in the family room. It was evident in her voice how much she missed them, but then with a sparkle in her eyes she introduced each of the ranch hands who had gathered in the dining room. “…these are my sons now–they work hard.” And then with a joyful laugh she added, “and they’re so good to listen to me babble on about my kids and how I love the good Lord.”
Mr. Woods chuckled along with everyone else as he stood to seat his wife in her special chair at the table. “They put up with your babbling just because you make good biscuits.”
Mrs. Woods blushed with smiles as she took her seat and then squeezed her husband’s hand who also took his seat next to her at the head of the table.
For many years, even though the hired cook made all the meals, Mrs. Woods insisted on making the biscuits–her own special recipe, and she made a big batch of dough every few days for “Cookie” to bake. Cookie, a nickname, was the ranch foreman’s wife–they lived in a small house on the property. The other ranch hands were younger, temporary help, mostly during the summer months–college kids working to earn money for school and some were also learning to be cattle ranchers too. This summer the Woods hired four cowboys including Caleb in addition to Aaron who worked on Saturday.
After dinner, Mr. Woods and Caleb gave Nolan a quick tour of the ranch ending up at the horse stable.
Mr. Woods remembered his promise to give Nolan a riding lesson. “Nolan would you like to try riding one of the horses or would you prefer the three wheeler?”
Nolan, wide-eyed, feeling intimidated from having never been on a horse before, but too proud to admit it, boldly stepped up beside the stall of a quiet, chestnut brown horse and stroked his mane. The horse remained quiet and seemed tame enough to Nolan. “I think I’d like to ride this horse.”
Caleb grinned and looked with question at Mr. Woods. “What do ya think, Woody? Is Bolt ready for a novice?”
“Uh, you know as well as I.”
Everyone was quiet with their own thoughts for a moment while Nolan stroked the horse’s mane again. Caleb retrieved a saddle and put it over Bolt. “This is the first lesson. Learning how to saddle a horse and mount and then I’ll lead the horse out to practice with the reins.”
“Alright let’s go.”
Mr. Woods grinned admiring Nolan’s enthusiasm. He watched as Caleb explained about the saddle and helped Nolan mount the horse. Good so far. Then he followed them as Caleb led the horse with Nolan in the saddle out of the barn into the pasture. Caleb explained how to use the reins and the stirrups while continuing to lead the horse. He thought Bolt behaved well as he gently trotted and then turned around.
Caleb felt confident that Nolan could go it alone. “Would you like to try a run around the pasture—it’s fenced—he can’t get out?”
“Sure—let’s go Bolt.”
“Remember what to do if he goes too fast?”
“Okay then, off you go. See ya next week—just kidding—turn around at that tree yonder.”
“Alllllright.” Bolt took off in a gallop as if he knew exactly where he wanted to go. Nolan became startled when the horse began running at a faster pace than he expected and thinking he should turn the horse around he pulled on the reins, but Bolt kept going. Nolan panicked and tried to stop the horse. At this point the horse stopped abruptly forcing Nolan forward causing him to pull tighter on the reins. Then Bolt turned around thrusting Nolan to the side. With all his strength he managed to pull himself back square into the saddle…
Everything by Prayer
After coffee, just as the sun came up, Jas took a “prayer” walk around the lake–Jazzy going along with him, leaving the whole household peacefully sleeping on an unusually cool summer morning.
As Jas walked, he remembered the first week at Mount Hope back in January—the dedication they had one Sunday afternoon—the special meal—smoked brisket had won the family vote—cake and ice-cream as if they were celebrating a birthday—most of all, the special prayer of dedication—everyone in the family had written a line in the prayer, and Jas included a borrowed line from King David’s prayer in the Bible. It was the King’s prayer that had inspired Jas to have a dedication celebration for Mount Hope.
Later Jas printed the prayer, framed it and hung it in the family room.
Today as he walked, surrounded by the serenity of wooded lake, beautiful as it is, it’s all temporary, he thought.
Maturing in his faith, Jas longed to be with the Lord–a natural innate yearning of all mankind. However, the world can dull our vision of God–cause us to make idols for ourselves. Yet, if we seek God, he will meet with us and show us his Salvation. In longing for God, more and more every day, Jas was learning to let go of earthly things–enjoy them, yet look more to the eternal, the forever things. One day Mount Hope will be gone. Only our faith, hope and love–enduring love for God and others will remain. For here we have no enduring city, we look for the one to come, the heavenly city.
When Jas returned to the house, Junia had made a fresh pot of coffee and was setting out bowls, boxes of cereal, fruit and pastries for breakfast. She apologized for the light breakfast. “I’m driving over to the Clark’s to meet with Carol, Jeanie and some other mothers to prepare for home school in August—it will be here before we know it.” With a sigh she added, “Summer is going so fast.”
Jas brushed a kiss on her cheek. “It’s because we’re so busy having fun.”
Jun paused with joy. “True. I’m so proud of everyone.”
At that moment, Caitlin came into the kitchen carrying baby Ava. “Me too—proud of everyone.”
Grand Jun took baby Ava in her arms to hug good morning while Caitlin prepared her bottle. Then Grand Jas tickled baby’s feet to make her laugh. “There we go—let’s start the day with joy not a fuss.”
Ryan joined everyone in the kitchen next. “Good morning everyone! The boys are still sleeping—must have worn out from swimming yesterday.”
With bottle in hand Caitlin shifted Ava from Grand Jun back into her arms to feed her. “Let them sleep. I’ve heard that teenagers sleep more and the younger ones are growing up to be teenagers soon anyway.”
Grand Jun laughed. “Which means when they wake up they will have outgrown their clothes and need new ones.”
Grand Jas smacked his forehead with his hand. “Quick Caitlin, let’s make some furniture to sell to buy the boys new clothes.”
Caitlin grinned and shook her head no as she sat down in the rocking chair to feed Ava.
Ryan laughed. “You all are being silly. You know how God has provided everything we need so far. I expect he won’t stop.”
“True, but we have to work!” Jas crossed his eyes in silly lightheartedness.
“Speaking of work—I’m going to town today to meet with the operations manager. Meeting with a contractor about the remodel of the site—anything needed at the store—and no I’m not buying clothes for the boys—we’ll do that another day—any groceries?”
Grand Jun retrieved a grocery list she had started. “Just in time. Here’s my list, oh but I remember we also need some…”
Later, Denver, Benjie, and Corby shook off their sleepiness and meandered to the kitchen finding cereal and pastries waiting for them. Caitlin was busy giving Ava a bath. Hearing Buddy bark, Nolan and Evan joined their brothers in the kitchen for breakfast too. Evan let Buddy out onto the patio with Jazzy and then sat down and peeled a banana, but Nolan grabbed it away and began to eat it just to annoy him.
“Nole that was my banana.” Evan pouted while Nolan laughed.
At that moment Jas walked in from the patio. “Good morning sleepyheads—I see you found breakfast.”
Denver asked Jas if there were more bananas.
Jas looked in the cabinet, but no more bananas or fruit so Denver, on impulse fueled by anger, took the pastry from Nolan’s plate, the only remaining pastry, and gave it to Evan.
Nolan looked shocked by Denver’s boldness.
Evan grinned in triumph as he took a hearty bite out of the pastry. “Settles up the banana theft. Ha, ha.”
Nolan remained quiet since Jas was in the room. Then Jas, grinning on the inside, pretending not to know, asked if everything was okay. Everyone quietly nodded yes as they passed around the box of cereal.
“After chores, we’ll get the lawn mowing and trimming out of the way–then this afternoon we’ll take it easy—reading, games or watch a movie.”
Benjie and Corby excitedly raised their hands to “vote” for watching a movie.
Denver and Evan disagreed. Both voted for “Mario Brothers!”
Jas recognized that Nolan remained quiet. “Nolan, what activity do you “vote” for?”
“I don’t care—whatever.”
“Not a vote—how ‘bout a chess match while we watch a movie?”
“Yeah, sounds cool.” Now Nolan looked forward to winning against Denver and Evan.
Everyone agreed to a chess match, popcorn, brownies and a movie.
Later Jas organized the boys as a team for outdoor work. He assigned the garden hoeing, weeding and harvesting to Benjie and Corby. Denver and Evan were given hedge clippers to trim the hedges and to Nolan he gave the old-fashioned hand-push mower to mow the grass around the patio and gazebo area.
Nolan complained. “It takes too long with the hand push. You have to pick up sticks first. And it’s hard to push through thick grass…”
Jas did not empathize. “It’s safer!” Then he chuckled as he flexed his arm. “Think of the mower as a weight machine, building up your arm muscles.” After everyone was busily working their assigned yard chore Jas left Jazzy and Buddy to watch over them while he went to mow the hill around the house with the gas push mower. Caitlin was also keeping an eye on them from the kitchen while she made brownies.
Every time Jas mowed the hill around the house he looked forward to next spring and planting wildflowers around the base of the hill—less grass to mow—and he and Junia imagined it would be even more beautiful. The house was built on the side of a hill beside the lake with the front lawn sloping down while the lawn around the back of the house was level and then further back was the furniture workshop on the ascending hillside. He could have used the riding lawn mower for mowing the front lawn, but it was tricky to use and not safe while the dogs and kids were in the back. So he chuckled at the thought of his earlier conversation with Nolan and preached to himself, think of the mower as a weight machine…
Mowing side to side, Jas was half way through the lawn when Corby came running from the back yard, frantically waving and yelling, “Grand Jas, Grand Jas!”
He stopped and turned off the mower walking to meet up with Corby.
“What’s going on?”
Corby, out of breath, insisted Grand Jas hurry to the back yard. “Nolan drove the big mower–and—and he–turned over…”
Grand Jas began running along with Corby to the back yard with visions of Nolan pinned under the flipped over mower.
As Jas entered the back yard he saw Denver and Evan shoulder to shoulder with Nolan, hobbling on one foot, to sit down at the gazebo. Nearby, the mower was on its side. And Benjie, the dogs and Caitlin with Ava on her hip followed right behind them.
As Nolan sat down, moaning with pain, everyone gathered around. Jas bent down to take a closer look at Nolan’s foot. Removing his tennis shoe brought more groans from pain. His ankle was swollen, bruised and scraped. Nolan explained that as the mower began to flip he jumped out but turned his ankle.
Jas sighed with relief, for even though Nolan was injured it could have been much worse.
“Caitlin bring some ice and the first aid kit. There’s a wrap we can put around his ankle—Jun or Ryan should be home soon and then we can take you to the hospital for x-rays—doesn’t look broken, but need to check it out.”
Nolan’s x-rays confirmed no broken bones, however a brace was wrapped around the ankle for support while it healed. Ryan and Caitlin met with everyone to review the events for the afternoon and then they met privately with Nolan to discuss what he had in mind when he disobeyed them and used the riding lawn mower. They gathered news items and statistics about mower accidents from online and printed them to show him how fortunate he was that his injury was not worse.
Ryan took some blame for leaving the key in the ignition. However, he reminded Nolan that everyone had already been warned not to use the riding lawn mower and all the boys admitted that they remembered the warning. Ryan knew some form of discipline would have to be done to correct Nolan’s disobedience, but exactly what to do they did not know. They would take time to think and pray about it.
Meanwhile, Nolan was already grounded just by the fact that he couldn’t do much with a twisted ankle. When the other boys were swimming or fishing he had to stay home and read. And he couldn’t go to the last rodeo of the season or at least he didn’t want to go hobbling around on crutches. So in a way he had grounded himself.
Mercy, Grace and Discipline
Eventually healing came and seasons changed bringing birthdays, homeschool and a new round of rodeo championships.
Evan’s thirteenth birthday was in late August and he wanted to have an end of summer celebration with family and friends at a water slide park. So Ryan, Jas and all the boys caravanned a half day’s journey with Chuck, Wynn and Aaron to the park. After splashing, sliding and riding rides at the park all afternoon, in the evening they enjoyed a baseball game and celebrated with corndogs and ice-cream bars. Instead of driving home after the late game they camped out overnight at a campground nearby before heading back home.
In September, when Nolan was asked how he wanted to celebrate his sixteenth birthday he said he wanted to taking driving lessons so he could get his driver’s license. Ryan and Caitlin responded with caution and said they would think about it. After prayer, asking God for wisdom, they decided that discipline for the mower accident in July needed to be applied. They held a private meeting with Nolan and explained that he would need to show them he was responsible and obedient before getting a license since driving a car requires obeying laws. So they set a time period of six months to demonstrate his ability to obey family rules then they would allow the driving lessons toward getting a license.
Nolan was infuriated. Six months seemed like a long time to him. He fussed and fumed at Ryan and Caitlin, but they remained unmoved in their decision. Then they suggested other activities to celebrate his birthday—a party with a few friends at home, a weekend campout party with friends on the lake, or shopping at the shopping mall a few hours away. He had mentioned earlier that he needed new jeans and boots to wear to the rodeo championships in October so he agreed to go shopping at the mall for his birthday along with all his brothers too. Ryan and Caitlin caravanned both vehicles with all the boys while the Grands stayed at home with baby Ava. Everyone had a fun day at the games arcade and it was special for Nolan because he was the only one who got new jeans, boots and a cowboy hat to go with it. For fun they stopped at a photo machine and made a “silly” family picture featuring Nolan in his cowboy hat. Then after returning home they celebrated with barbecue, cake and ice-cream. Nolan felt loved and secure with his new family, although he didn’t even realize it himself.
Soon baby Ava would be celebrating her first birthday in October. Along with her birthday came the end of the one year waiting period to adopt Ava and her brothers. Their advocate, Charlotte, had all the paperwork ready to go and Caitlin could hardly contain her excitement. The most difficult part was trying to keep Nolan and Evan from feeling like outsiders once the adoption was completed. Adopting Nolan and Evan was complicated since they had other relatives who could adopt them and with a long waiting period Nolan could be eighteen by the time everything was cleared. Charlotte had a private meeting with Nolan and Evan to explain and to affirm that they were wanted and loved by their current family just as much as if they were adopted.
Ryan and Caitlin also made a point of always including Nolan and Evan as brothers to their adopted kids and thinking of them as their own children. They always introduced all the kids as their children and likewise the Grands spoke of all the kids as their grandkids. Even so Nolan and Evan felt like outsiders, especially Nolan.
Since Nolan’s six month test began from July he counted the weeks, days to January when he would be able to take driving lessons and he was determined to keep all the family rules even if he didn’t want to.
Monday through Saturday, Jas and Caitlin worked on furniture orders, but they set aside a few afternoons each week to work with Nolan, Evan and Denver, training them to make bookshelves that they could sell to earn money toward their savings accounts.
One particular day Evan and Denver refused to come and work with Nolan after a prank he had played on them earlier in the day. Caitlin stopped working to go and speak with Evan and Denver leaving Jas alone with Nolan. Nolan sulked as he sanded a shelf. Jas prayed quietly to God for wisdom. After the awkward silence, even though the room was filled with noise from sanding and sawing, Jas took a small piece of wood to sand and sat down across from Nolan. He felt like he should find out Nolan’s side of the story. “So what happened to make your brothers so upset that they won’t come and work today?”
“It was nothing. Just a joke.”
“But they didn’t laugh did they—why do you think they thought it not funny?”
Nolan still remained defensive. “It was just a little stink bate in their water shoes. You know—their lake shoes. They’re washable.”
Jas chuckled inside. “I knew I shouldn’t have bought that stuff. Sticking to lures and worms from now on.”
“You remind me of myself when I was your age.”
Nolan looked shocked. “Really?”
“Sure. I was always thinking of silly stuff to do. Till one time the silly turned out to be not so funny. My teacher asked me to sit in the corner for the whole class time and think about how I would feel if the same were done to me.”
“Oh yeah—what did you do?”
“Not telling. My sins are buried in the depths of the sea. Not going to fish them out.”
Nolan chuckled and then was quiet with his own thoughts for a moment.
Jas hoped Nolan was thinking of how embarrassed he would feel if someone put stink bate in shoes he had to wear while fishing with Wynn or Aaron. Or Crystal.
“Anyway, after that time in the corner I always thought twice about silly tricks. And my parents, after they read the note my teacher sent home, they made me write out a scripture 100 times. I still remember it.”
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
After a few moments with each to their own thoughts, Jas continued on with his story. “Later I learned that my silly tricks were actually sins against others. I was inconsiderate of other’s needs and only thinking of myself. I found the cure though. God my Savior came and died to take the punishment for my sin and he rose from the dead to give me a new life in Christ so that I could have his victorious life living in me.”
Nolan rolled his eyes and remained quiet so Jas quietly prayed that spiritual truth heard would one day bear fruit to the saving of his soul.
Later, Caitlin and Ryan met privately with Nolan to discuss the stink bate prank. They had removed from the wall of the family room the house rules and pointed out one of the rules.
“Be considerate of others and do as you would have done to you.”
Ryan, with gentleness, said, “Nolan can you honestly say that you would like one of your brothers to put stink bate in your shoes?”
Nolan hung his head. “No sir.”
Caitlin remained quietly praying for the situation.
Ryan, with sadness, issued the discipline that he knew was needed, but sure to be disappointing to Nolan. “Remember the six months to test for obeying rules–the test for getting driving lessons. The six months starts over from today.”
Nolan remained quietly fuming with anger–thinking how life is just not fair. He felt like he just wanted to bust out. But to where he did not know. For now he just wanted to be alone and although it was night and almost time for going to sleep he was too angry with Evan to go to his room. Instead he went out to the gazebo and sulked in the dark.
While Nolan was out consoling his anger Jas received a phone call from Mr. Woods–an invitation to Nolan. Slowly, as Jas relayed the news, Nolan began to forget about the delayed driving lessons. At least he hadn’t been grounded from going out to the rodeo championship on Saturday and now even more exciting was an invitation to stay at the Woods’ ranch for the entire weekend.
Jas patted him on the back. “See Nolan, God hasn’t forgotten you.”
“About time.” Nolan said half grudgingly. He could hardly wait. The temporary ranch hands had left to return to school so he would stay with Aaron at the bunkhouse and the Woods’ foreman, Rick, promised to give him riding lessons.
From that time onward, Mr. and Mrs. Woods took Nolan under their wing like their own grandson. They couldn’t explain why they felt such a kindred fondness for him. They thought, most likely, it was God’s answer to someone’s prayer. And it was just what Nolan needed–special attention–even though he didn’t deserve it. He felt at home and at peace at the Woods, not looking to make trouble, but to learn and be of help to them.
Eventually, he was invited to stay more days at the ranch to learn the “ropes” from Rick and perhaps be a full-time ranch hand come summer. Though for now, Ryan brought him to the ranch on Fridays and the Walkers met him at church on Sundays to take him home to Mount Hope. He dropped out of the training for making furniture, but continued with home schooling Monday through Thursday. His time away helped him with relating to the other boys. Perhaps it was the focused energy at being a rancher that helped him be at peace with his brothers. He had found purpose and would yet find out that God had an even greater purpose for him.
Caitlin finished making furniture for little Ava just before the Thanksgiving holiday and redecorated the empty room beside the kitchen that had originally been a maid’s room. Caitlin and Grand Jun had great fun putting up floral wallpaper and curtains and painting the bathroom pink. It was just the right size for one growing girl who needed privacy away from all her brothers and conveniently, mother and grandmother would be nearby in the kitchen.
Ryan visited the new work site several times a week to look at the progress of the remodel. He and his business partners anticipated the site to be fully operational by January and many residents in the community looked forward to being employed again.
Although Denver and Evan continued on with their carpentry apprenticeship, they joined Benjie in taking technology classes online. This in addition to their regular homeschool lessons kept them busy most of the day.
Denver, Benjie and Corby grew spiritually as well—memorizing Bible verses and learning how to live with everyday struggles—sometimes stumbling yet pressing on.
Nolan got over his jealousy of Evan’s friendship with Denver and the two felt like close brothers again.
Just after Thanksgiving, the first week of December, Mount Hope received an early Christmas gift—a new foster brother, Kai, age five. He came shy and numb from emotional trauma like the others when they first came to the Walker family.
Evan shared his doggy with his new brother Kai letting Buddy sleep at the end of Kai’s bunk in their room. And now Corby had a new friend close to his age to share coloring books and Legos.
And Jas found time to make a sign for Mount Hope. He got the idea after seeing the signage at the entrance gate of the Woods’ ranch. So between furniture orders for Christmas rush and working with two apprentices he made signage for Mount Hope. Keeping it a secret, he hung it up early one morning while everyone was still sleeping.
As he worked to hang the sign on the gate he paused to remember coming to Oldfather Lake on adventure just over two years ago. Tears came to his eyes as he praised God from his heart for all the good things he had brought about since then.
So many changes since he had first discovered a no trespassing sign on the lake of his dreams. He had to let go of his dream and let God design a forever dream.
For here we have no enduring city, we look for the one to come, the heavenly city.
When the family came home from church on Sunday morning, as he stopped to open the gate, with wonderment everyone admired the beautiful ornately framed oak panel engraved in hand script:
by Faith, Hope and Love.
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.