A terrible accident. A funeral. A weeping widow. All of these things, somewhere deep down, Jason blames himself for, and there are others who do as well. The freak skiing accident that claimed his brothers life seems to have deeper meaning behind it. In the year following the accident, you will watch as this family struggles to heal. The single mom, the uncle and brother-in-law, the father-in-law and other relatives in their own clumsy ways, try to recover.
This book had many good points about it. It showed how Jason turned his life around after facing this tragedy, by turning to the Lord. It showed how sin has long lasting effects and some times you can’t fix hastily spoken words. Once said, they are out there forever. I really thought the author did a good job of making that point. However, it seemed like the book was over too short of a period of time. It skips ahead 10 months and then it is just a matter of like 2-3 months the rest of the book takes place. When you dealing with deep grieving and hard stuff like this, it takes a bit more time, or should, in real life.
Overall, it is a book that I would recommend, especially if someone was grieving and blaming themselves for it and could not handle the normal “How to recover” books. -Martha
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Whitaker House (September 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***
After over thirty years of teaching, with her children grown, Shar prayed for direction, asking God for a new mission that would fill her heart with the same kind of passion shed felt teaching and raising children. She began to write fiction stories filled with fallen heroes and redeemed villains, daring women and starry-eyed children plotlines that ultimately brought her characters face to face with Gods grace and restorative power. That choice has proven to be an excellent career move as the prolific author is releasing her 9th novel in September 2010. Sharlene grew up in western Michigan and graduated from Spring Arbor University with a degree in education. She traveled the world with a musical group before returning home to marry Cecil MacLaren, whom shed known since boyhood. The couple lives in western Michigan.
Visit the author’s website.
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (September 1, 2010)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Icy breezes whistled through the trees in Fairmount Cemetery, prompting the faithfuls gathered there to pull their collars tighter and button their coat fronts higher, as the tent that had been set up for the occasion did little to protect them from the elements. Just two days ago, northern Michigan had experienced a warm front, unusual for late November, but todays temperatures made a mockery of it. Twenty-nine-year-old Jason Evans shivered, no longer feeling his fingers or toes, and wondered if the numbness came from the dreadful cold or from his deliberate displacement of emotion. He still couldnt believe itit was just two days after Thanksgiving, and his brother, John, two years older than he, was gone. Gone.
As Pastor Eddie Turnwall from Harvest Community Church pronounced the final words of interment, sobs and whimpers welled up from the mourners. His moms guttural cry among them gouged him straight to the core. Jasons dad pulled his wife closer while Jason placed a steadying hand on her shoulder. His girlfriend, Candace Peterson, stuck close by, her hand looped through his other arm. His sister-in-lawJohns widow, Rachelstood about six feet away, clinging tightly to her father and borrowing his strength as tears froze on her cheeks. Her coat bulged because of her pregnancy of eight months, and Jason worried that the added stress of her grief might send her into early labor. Meagan, John and Rachels three-year-old daughter, was the only one oblivious to the goings-on; she twirled like a ballerina until Rachels fifteen-year-old sister, Tanna, bent down to pick her up. If she knew the significance of this day, Jason thought, shed be standing as still as a statue. What a blessing God kept her shieldedat least, for the time being.
And now, dear Father, we commit John Thomas Evans into your hands, Pastor Turnwall declared. We know
No! Rachels pitiful wail brought the reverend to a temporary halt. In the worst way, Jason wanted to go to her, but he had his mom to think about. Mitch Roberts supported his daughter, whispered something in her ear, and nodded for the reverend to continue. Pastor Turnwall hastened to a finish, but the last of his words faded in the howling winds.
At the close of the brief ceremony, many of the mourners stepped forward to give the family some final encouragement. Jason went through the motions, nodding and uttering words of thanks. While he longed to linger at the bronze casket, the weather made it impossible, so, as the last of the small crowd left the tent, he followed, Candaces quiet sniveling somehow disarming him. He didnt have the strength to comfort her, especially since shed barely known his brother; she barely knew his family, for that matter.
Are you all right? Candace asked in a quavery voice.
Im doing okay, he muttered, his gaze pointed downward as they walked along the frozen path. How did one explain how he really felt on a day like this?
In front of them, mourners scattered in various directions, heading for cars covered in a thin layer of freshly fallen snow. Despite the cold, Rachel walked with slow, faltering steps, sagging against her father. Even from ten or so feet back, Jason could hear her sobbing moans. The sound made his chest contract.
Without forethought, he left Candace to her own defenses and raced ahead to catch up with them.
Rachel. Breathless, he reached her side. Im so sorry.
Jay. She turned from her fathers supportive grip and fell into Jasons arms, her sobs competing with the sighing winds.
They stopped in the path, and he held her sob-racked body, feeling his eyes well up with tears. Through his blurred vision, he noted both families halting their steps to look on. One of Rachels girlfriends took Meagan from Tanna and headed toward one of the cars. Shh. You can do this, Rachel, he whispered. Think of Meaganand your baby.
II c-cant, she stammered, her voice barely resembling that of the Rachel hed known since high school, when he and John would argue over who was going to win her in the end. Of course, itd been John, and rightfully so. And not for a second had Jason ever begrudged him. They fit like a glove, Rachel and John.
Sure, you can, he murmured in her ear. You are Rachel Evans, strong, courageous, capableand carrying my brothers son, dont forget. He set her back from him and studied her perfect, oval face, framed by wisps of blond hair falling out from beneath her brown, velvet, Chicago cuff hat. Her blue eyes, red around the edges, peered up at him from puffy eyelids without really seeing. Chills skipped up his spine, and he didnt think they came from the airs cold bite. Come on, lets get you to the car, he urged her, thankful when Candace stepped forward to take Rachels other arm, and they set off together. Rachel barely acknowledged Candace, and he wondered if she even remembered her, so few were the times he had brought her home.
I cant believe it, Jason, I justI cant believe it, Rachel kept murmuring. Just last week, we were making plans for our future, talking about John Jr. coming into the world, wondering how Meagan would feel about having a baby brother .
He just finished painting the nursery, you know.
She frowned. Tell me again what happened.
His throat knotted. What? No, Rach, not here.
She slowed her steps to snag him by the coat sleeve. I need to hear it again, she said, punctuating each word with determination.
Well talk later, but first, we need to get you out of the cold.
Jasons right, honey, Mitch said, coming up behind them. Lets go back to the house.
But I dont understand how it happened. I need to understand.
Weve been over it, Donna Roberts said as she joined them. Tanna came up beside her mother and held her hand as they walked. Like everyone elses, Arlene Robertss face bore evidence of having shed a river of tears.
I dont care! Rachels voice conveyed traces of hysteria. She stopped in her tracks, forcing everyone else to do the same. John was a good skier, she said. He knew the slopes on Sanders Peak like the back of his hand. You said yourself you guys used to ski out there every spring. Her seascape-colored eyes shot holes of anguish straight through Jasoncritical, faultfinding eyes.
A rancid taste collected at the back of his throat. We did, Rach, and he was the best of the best, but it takes a champion skier to navigate Devils Run. Come on, your cars just ahead.
Her feet remained anchored to the frozen ground. Did you force him, Jason?
What? The single word hissed through his teeth. How could you even suggest such a thing?
Rachel, now is not the time for such .
But Rachel covered her dads words with her own. Did you provoke him into taking Devils Run? Witnesses heard you two arguing, Jay. Why would you be fighting on top of a mountain?
We werent fight
Youve always been the risk taker, the gutsy, smug one, ever looking for a challenge. You pushed him to do it, didnt you?
What? No! What are you saying, Rachel? It was a stupid accident, thats all.
She stood her ground, her eyes wild now. John isnt like you, Jay, never was. Why drag him to the top of Devils Run if only a champion skier can handle it? You of all people knew his capabilitiesand his limitations.
Jason wanted to shake her but refrained, merely giving her a pointed stare instead. I did not drag him anywhere, Rachel, and weve both navigated Devils Run before. Its just the conditions were extra bad that day. I told him not to try it. You have to believe me.
Then why, Jason? Just tell me why hed take the chance! Why? she wailed, thumping him hard in the chest. Shock pulsed through his veins as he grabbed her fist in midair to prevent another assault. Everyone gasped, and Candace took a full step back, looking bewildered. Blast if he wasnt dumbfounded himself. Where did she get off blaming him for the accident? Didnt she realize his heart ached as much as hers over Johns death?
Mitch stepped forward and put his arm around his daughter. Witnesses say John went down of his own accord, honey, and the police ruled his death accidental. No one forced him down that slope.
Now she threw her father an accusatory glare. How do you know that, Dad? Were you there?
Mitch frowned. Wellof course not.
As if that should have settled it, Rachel pulled away and marched up the snowy walkway, albeit with stumbling steps. In robotic fashion, everyone else followed, shaking their heads in dismay. Taken aback by her insinuations, Jason fell in at the tail of the procession. She blames me, he muttered.
Shes completely rude, Candace said, taking his gloved hand in hers with a gentle squeeze.
No, shes just not thinking straight.
I dont see how you can defend her. She just hauled off and hit you square in the chest.
He cared very much for Candace, but she sometimes annoyed him with her snap assessments. She just lost her husband, Candace.
Mitch reached the car ahead of Rachel and opened the front door for her. Wheres Meaggie? she suddenly asked, almost as an afterthought, turning full around to scan the cemetery.
Aunt Emily took her back to the house, her mother said, climbing into the back with Tanna.
Before climbing into the car, she glanced about, focusing on Jason. He was a good skier, Jason.
Jason nodded his head in agreement. Yes, he was, Rachel. No question about that.
As good as you? she questioned with a cynical hint.
Yes. As good as me, he lied.
Seeming pacified, she bent her awkward, pregnant body and eased into the seat. Mitch closed the door behind her and went around to his own side, nodding at Jasons parents, Tom and Donna Evans, and the rest of his family before climbing into the drivers side and starting the engine.
When the car disappeared from view, Jason murmured again, She blames me.
It will pass, said Tom, removing his keys from his coat pocket. Give her time.
As they approached his dads late-model Chevrolet, Jason asked, What about you, Dad? Do you think Im to blame?
Son, please, lets not talk about this anymore.
Well, do you?
Get in the car, his dad ordered in a tone Jason hadnt heard since his youth. Even though he was a grown man, he felt compelled to obey. Candace climbed in ahead of him, and they all rode back to the house in icy silence.
Ten months later
Mommy, will you play with me? Meagan asked for at least the dozenth time.
Rachel scanned the kitchen, overwhelmed by the sight of empty juice bottles, a spilled box of baby cereal, a pan of lukewarm potato soup, and a pile of several weeks worth of mail. A quick glance at the clock on the wall told her it was already 8:05 p.m. Her pounding head and jangling nerves were additional reminders of her upside-down life, and Rachel shot Meagan a weary look. Mommy cant play just now, honey. Its already past your bedtime, and I still have to get you and your brother in the bathtub. She wiped her damp brow with the back of her hand. It had been an unusually warm day for September, and the heat and humidity still lingered in the house, despite the open windows. In fact, the entire summer had been the hottest and driest Rachel could remember.
I dont want a bath.
I know, but you played hard today. A bath will feel good.
Uh-uh. Baths stink, Meagan whined.
Rachel had a good comeback on the tip of her tongue, but she kept it to herself.
Can you read me a book?
Not this minute, no. Suddenly, it occurred to her that things were too quiet in the living room, where shed left John Jr. Setting down her dishcloth, she headed toward the other room and found an assortment of magazines scattered about, their pages ripped out and thrown helter-skelter. Johnny looked up and grinned, his mouth jammed full with something. She ran across the room, knelt down beside him, and pried open his jaws, using her index finger to fish out a glob of wet paper. Oh, Johnny-Boy, you little stinker, youd better not have swallowed any of this.
If he did, itll come out in his diaper, Meagan stated.
In spite of herself, Rachel laughed, something shed rarely done since becoming a single parent. In fact, more often than not, she laid her exhausted self in bed each night and cried into her pillow, counting all the ways shed failed at her mothering job that day, wishing John were there to ease the load.
She whisked Johnny up and headed for the stairs, deciding to leave the kitchen mess alone for now. Come on, Meaggie. Its bath time. She lifted the latch on the gate and allowed Meagan to pass ahead of her, patting her on the back to urge her up the stairs.
Noooooo, came another expected whine.
Mustering up a bright voice, she said, Remember, Grandma and Grandpa Evans are picking you up in the morning to take you to the circus! Youll see elephants, tigers, horses and I bet youll even see some clowns. Wont that be fun?
Is Johnny goin, too?
Nope. Tomorrow is strictly a Meagan day.
Yay! she squealed, her mood instantly improved.
Later, with the children tucked in bed, the kitchen cleaned, and the house put back into a semi-ordered fashion, Rachel collapsed into her overstuffed sofa and heaved a mountainous sigh. Her chest felt heavy, a sensation shed come to expect these days.
Be still, and know that I am God.
I know, Lord, she whispered, breathing deeply. But its hard. Sometimes, I dont feel Your presence. I will never understand why You took John.
Be still .
She leaned down and pulled Johns Bible from a stack of books beneath the coffee table, guiltily wiping off a fine layer of dust. Lord, Ive been so busy, I havent even opened Your Word for weeks. What kind of a Christian am I, anyway? Shoot, what kind of a parent am I? I cant even find time in a day to read Meagan a book.
Be still .
She opened the leather book, noting many highlighted verses interspersed throughout the slightly worn pages. John had been an avid reader, putting her to shame. She knew God more with her head than her heart, but John had known Him with both. She missed his wisdom, his courage, and his strength. Most days, it felt like she was floundering without her other half. If only shed had the chance to say good-byethen, maybe, shed have fewer gnawing regrets. She gave her head a couple of fast shakes to blot out the memory.
I will never leave you nor forsake you, came the inner voice. It sounded good, but could she truly believe it?
Saturday morning dawned bright and full on the horizon, the skies a brilliant blue. The heady scent of roses wafted through her bedroom window. If John were still alive, hed have headed out at daybreak and picked her a bouquet for the breakfast table. She smiled at the thought. Gentle, cool breezes played with the cotton curtains, causing shadows to dance jubilantly across the ceiling. She hauled her downy comforter up to her chin and turned her head to glance at the vacant pillow on the other side of the king-sized bed. His side always remained unruffled, no matter how much she tossed and turned in the night.
Two doors down, Johnny stirred, his yelps for attention growing by decibels. On cue, her breasts sent out an urgent message that it was feeding time. Im coming, Johnny Cakes, she called out, then sighed as she tossed back the blankets, donned her robe, and stepped into her slippers. She padded across the room, stopping briefly to touch the framed photo of her and John on their wedding day before continuing to the nursery, where her towheaded, nine-month-old baby was waiting in his Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas. Oh, how she thanked the Lord she still had her beloved children. Yes, they wore her to a frazzle, but they also kept her grounded.
When the doorbell rang at nine oclock on the dot, Meagan sailed through the house in her pink, polka-dotted shorts and matching shirt, her blond hair flying, and made a running leap into her grandpas waiting arms, wrapping her legs around his middle. Tom Evans laughed heartily and planted a kiss on her cheek, and Donna smiled, tousling the childs head.
Grandpa Evans! Meagan squealed, reaching up to cup his cheeks with her hands. You and Grandma are taking me to the circus!
No! Are you sure? He feigned surprise. I thought we were just going for a walk in the park.
Uh-uh. Mommy says were goin to the circus. Whats a circus, anyway?
Tom laughed and began explaining what she should expect at the circus, while Donna took Johnny from Rachels arms and moved to the bay window for a look at the gleaming sunshine.
While her father-in-law talked to Meagan, Rachel looked on, getting glimpses of John in his every gesture. Tom Evans manner of speech, his pleasant face, his lean, medium build, the way he angled his head as he spoke, and even his rather bookish, industrious nature put her in mind of John.
She then thought of Jason, sort of the black sheep of the family, only in the sense that he was just the opposite with his tall, strongly built frame, cocoa-brown hair and eyes, and reckless, devil-may-care personality. And he was terribly likable to everyoneexcept Rachel, even though she, John, and Jason had been almost inseparable during their high school and college years. They had stuck together despite Jasons penchant for weekend parties and Johns utter dislike of them; Jason had spent so much time socializing, it was a wonder hed even graduated. But she and Jason had grown apart, especially after the accident, and she hadnt seen him since last Christmasher own choice, of course.
Tom stepped forward to plant a light kiss on Rachels cheek. How are you doing these days, Rachel?
Im all right, she said with a mechanical shrug and a wistful smile. She never felt like discussing her innermost feelings.
Tom narrowed his gaze as he set Meagan down. The child scooted over to her grandma, who smiled down at her, then looked up at Rachel and said, Say, why dont you stop by the house tomorrow afternoon? You havent been over for such a long time.
Visiting her in-laws home was like walking into yesterday, and Rachel didnt know if she was ready to pass over the threshold again. The last few times had been too painful; shed found herself glancing around the house and expecting John to come barreling out of one of the rooms. Silence followed as she bit down hard on her lip.
Jason is coming home, Donna went on, bouncing Johnny as she moved away from the window. He called yesterday, and I convinced him to come for dinner. He hasnt been home for a couple of months. I know hed love to meet little Johnny. He asks about him every time he calls, and you know how much he loves and misses Meagan.
Just hearing Jasons name incited painful memories packed with guilt. For a time, Rachel had hated Jason, even blamed him for Johns death. Now, she just resented him for reasons she couldnt define. In high school, the phrase Threes a crowd had never applied to them. Instead, All for one, and one for all had been their mottountil she and John had become a couple, that is. After that, the chemistry among the three of them had changed. Oh, shed had warm feelings for both brothers, and shed even dated Jason off and on, but John ultimately had won her heart in his final two years of college with his utter devotedness to her, his promise of a bright future, and his maturity and passionate faith.
What do you say, Rachel? Donna asked, turning her head to keep Johnny from pulling on one of her dangling, gold earrings.
Yes, you should come, echoed Tom.
IIm not sure. I think my parents are stopping over.
Oh, no; theyre coming straight from church to our place for lunch. They didnt mention that? Donna asked, bobbing Johnny in her arms. The two families had always been close, having lived in neighboring towns and attended the same church for years. Then, when Rachel and John had gotten married, the bond had grown tighter still.
Um, I guess they did, but I I forgot. Panic raced through Rachel from head to toe. She didnt want to see Jason, couldnt picture him in a room without John there, too.
Rachel. Donna touched Rachels arm, her eyes moist. We miss John more than you can imagine, butwe still have Jay. His birthday is Tuesday, remember? Wont you come and help us celebrate it like old times?
Jasons birthday. Shed forgotten all about it. Yes, she did recall celebrating it as a family, just as theyd celebrated hers, Johns, and every other family members.
Im sorry; I just dont feel like celebrating anything or anyone.
But hes your brother-in-law, sweetheart. Dont you want to see him? Remember how the three of you used to be so inseparable?
Mom, please, Rachel warned her. Its all different now.
Of course, I know that. But
Leave it be, Donna, Tom said sternly. Meagan, growing as restless as a filly, tugged at her grandfathers pant leg. I can understand why Rachel wouldnt want to see Jason. Too many memories, right, Rachel? He reached up and touched her shoulder. Its probably for the bestyou two keeping your distance, at least for now.
She swallowed a tight knot and released a heavy breath. Thanks.
Donna blinked. Well, if thats how you feel . But, at some point, I hope youll reconsider. She shifted her fidgety body and frowned at her husband, then smiled down at Meagan and tweaked her nose. Well, we should be getting to that circus, dont you think, pumpkin?
Yes! Meagan jumped with unadulterated glee. Oh, to be that innocent, Rachel thought.
Well try not to be too late getting her home. How bout trying to get some rest when you put Johnny down? Tom asked as Donna handed Johnny off to Rachel. You look plain tuckered out.
It sounded wonderful, but also completely unrealistic, considering the overflowing baskets of dirty clothes in the laundry room, the teetering pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, and the brimming wastebasket in every bathroom. Whoever said A womans work is never done must have been a single mom, Rachel thought. Then, nodding with a forced smile, she saw the circus-goers to the door.