The Lord is Close (Part 10)

The little girl gazed around in shock. “Where am I? Oh, help me Lord, please,” she begged. She watched the treetops swaying in the breeze and peered through the woods. It all looked the same except, what was that form she could see through the trees? Was it a building of some sort, a house perhaps? She began stumbling towards it when a man dressed in camo from head to toe suddenly stepped out from behind a tree. Across his chest, he cradled a shotgun.

“Who are you?” he said roughly.

The world began to spin. The colors of the trees and the sky blended together as the little girl lost consciousness.

Soft tongues licked her face, wet noses nuzzled her neck and furry bodies climbed all over her. Her first awakening thoughts were of Buddy and then all the memories came flooding back. She opened her eyes slowly and saw that three furry puppies in the same shade of brown as Buddy were climbing all over her. She lay on a low cot in a room that was sparsely decorated. There was an iron cook stove, and a rough-hewn picnic table for dining. The benches and chairs around the room looked as if they were homemade also. The walls and floors were wooden. She wondered if she had stepped back into time and into the pages of one of the old books that she loved so much. She could hear voices coming from the other room. As she sat up, one of the puppies started barking. A woman pushed open the door and walked over to her. The little girl squeezed back against the wall, trying to make herself as small as possible.

“Oh, don’t be afraid,” the woman said. “You are safe here. What is your name?”

The little girl thought for a moment. How odd it felt to think about having a name. No one had called her by her name in a while. No one cared who she was.

“Hope,” she said in a whisper.

“What a beautiful name,” said the woman. “My name is Grace. It’s nice to meet you. Your mother must have really loved you to give you that name,” the woman continued, trying to put the little girl at ease.

Hope looked at Grace and solemnly said, “She said when I was born that my Daddy said he hoped that I wasn’t as much trouble as my brother and so that’s why she named me Hope but that she should have named me Disappointment because that’s what I am.”

The woman looked taken aback for a moment. “I’m so sorry, honey. There is a no way that a beautiful child like you could ever be a disappointment. I hope you believe me.” She smiled at her own wordplay but the jest went unnoticed.

Hope suddenly remembered what had frightened her. “Where’s the man with the gun?”

“Oh, that’s my husband. He brought you here. He said you just fainted right in front of him. I think it scared him half to death,” she gently laughed.

“I’m sorry,” Hope said. “It was horrible what happened.”

“What did happen?” asked Grace.

The entire story poured out of Hope. She had needed to tell someone for so long and Grace had such a kind, understanding face. Grace offered her water and some toasted bread to nibble on during the story. Hope ate and talked in between drinks and bites. Lines of concern etched her face as Grace listened to the story.

When she was finished, Hope sat quietly, drained of energy. She was exhausted from the mental and emotional toll of the last few days.

Grace looked at Hope and noticed her facial features a little more carefully than she had before. She mentally nodded. Yes, there it is, she thought. The noticed the dark eyes set wide apart and the slightly tilted button nose with a sprinkling of freckles. Some of her own children had those features.

“Is your father’s name Richard?” Grace asked.

Hope looked startled. “Yes, how do you know?” she asked suddenly frightened that this woman that she trusted should know her father.

“He is my brother,” Grace said. “That makes me your Aunt Grace. Don’t worry, I’m not like him and I haven’t seen him in years,” she quickly said. “We don’t live that far apart but I make it a point not to look for trouble.

Hope relaxed just a little. “Please don’t make me go back,” she begged.

“No, no, calm down,” Grace said. “You are safe right here for now.” She thought for a moment, then said, “Would you like to meet your cousins?”

“Yes, yes, very much so,” said Hope.

The four children had been leaning against the door obviously because the instant she said yes, they all but tumbled into the room.

“This is Bobby, Noah, Faith, and Zoe.”

Bobby, clearly the oldest and the leader, held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Cousin,” he said.

Having just completed his outdoor chores, Zach walked in through the front door and removed his worn cap. He gave a gentle nod towards Hope. She smiled and so did he in return.

“And this is my husband, your Uncle Zach,” Grace said.

“And you have already met the three pups and their momma is laying down on the back porch resting. They keep her busy.”

“What kind of puppies are they?” Hope asked.

“Golden retrievers,” Grace said.

“Where’s their daddy?”

“Well, he comes around to visit but we haven’t seen him much lately. He was a golden retriever too. Acted like a hunting dog or so it seemed to me. He was probably from some farm around,” Grace said.

Hope smiled and hugged one of the puppies close to her. “Can I name one of them Buddy?”

“I don’t see why not,” Grace said with a smile. “He seems to have taken to you.”

Hope cleaned up in their outdoor shower and then borrowed some clothes from Faith, who was the closest to her size. Later that evening, they all sat down at the table for supper. The children linked hands and Faith and Zoe reached up for Hope’s. She hesitated for a moment before she accepted. Zach said the blessing over the food and everyone except Hope bowed their heads. Hope looked around the table in amazement and said her own silent prayer thanking God for bringing these people into her life. An oil lamp lit the table, and the sounds of cicadas could be heard. Hope missed her tree for just a little bit and the cozy home that she and Buddy had made.

“Why do you all live out here like this?” Hope asked suddenly.

After the laughter subsided, Uncle Zach said, “We wondered how long it would be before you asked. We are living off-grid. It is a lifestyle choice that we have made and we may not do it forever but we are enjoying it for now. We own the land and I write and sell a few books. We have enough savings to pay the taxes and buy our necessities. We use some solar power and grow a garden and raise our own chickens for eggs and meat. Your Aunt Grace is homeschooling your cousins. It is an adventure we always wanted to do and so we are living it.”

“Your Uncle Zach is right, Hope. It is an adventure and don’t let him fool you. He sells a lot of books and we aren’t in need of anything.” She smiled adoringly at her husband.

They finished an enjoyable meal. The food was good and more importantly, the conversation and laughter continued throughout. Hope felt right at home.

After supper, they sang some hymns while Uncle Zach played the guitar. After they stopped singing, Hope said, “What will happen to me? Can I just stay here with you all?”

“Would you like to?” Aunt Grace asked.

“Yes, I would,” Hope said as Buddy nipped at her toes and rolled around on her foot.

At that moment, the sound of a large cat was heard roaring in the distance and Hope looked around startled.

“Don’t fret about that,” Aunt Grace said.

“Why not?” asked Hope, suddenly remembering that she had left her Bible in the tree. “There is a verse in my Bible that says that the devil is like a lion waiting to devour me.”

Grace smiled. “Yes, but you have to read the verses around it too. They do tell you to be alert that the devil is out there but it also tells you to humble yourself to God and He will lift you up again. You are safe in His protection. Whatever happens, you are safe with Him and you are not alone.”

She picked up a huge old Bible that was laying on a shelf behind her and turned to 1 Peter, chapter 5 and read aloud:

5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

“You can’t just read a little bit of the scripture and get a complete understanding. The more you read, the more you will understand. Since you can quote from the Bible, I am guessing that you know God and have been talking to Him?” Grace said.

“Oh yes, Aunt Grace. I know God. I have been so afraid and I have been asking Him for help but bad things keep happening to me. I think I must not be a very good person since God keeps letting bad things happen and….” She couldn’t continue for a moment because of her sobbing. “I stole some things too. I was so hungry. I know it was wrong. I believe, or I want to believe so much, but I am just so afraid. It is hard to believe when you are so afraid and don’t know what to do.”

“You have been through more than most adults can handle. Faith isn’t about being perfect or fearless. It’s about keeping your faith even when you make mistakes and even when you are afraid. Let’s talk to God now, Hope,” Grace said.

They all prayed and took turns asking God for forgiveness and thanking Him for their blessings.

When they were finished, Hope asked Uncle Zach, “Do you think you could help me find the tree where I left my Bible?”

“Yes, I believe I can,” he said and smiled reassuringly.

There were three bedrooms in the cabin and Hope shared a room with Faith and Zoe. The children fell asleep quickly, except for Hope. Bad memories and good memories from the past few days ran through her head. She tossed and turned for just a few moments as she silently prayed for God to help her sleep. Just as she was drifting off, she felt a peace that surrounded her. She felt safe and at home. She knew the Lord was close and that He would always be. She drifted into dreamland.

Epilogue:

Grace and Zach sat awake in the living room of the cabin and listened quietly to the citizen band radio, which was one of the ways they got their news. There was still a small group of CB’ers who listened and talked regularly, including some other off-grid families in the area.

“This is Boomer. Smokey’s running hot tonight. They’ve got a 10-33 down the county road out by Pickle’s farm,” an old CB’er said.

Zach leaned forward and pushed the lever down to talk. “This is Tenderfoot. Can you give me the 10-20 for that 10-33?” Zach asked trying to find out the location of the emergency.

After a moment, Boomer replied in a somber tone, ”I’m sorry, Tenderfoot, but you might want to hear this yourself. Turn on your bear radio.” Zach reached to turn on his police scanner, feeling that this was not good. He had never heard Boomer sound that sad before.

After he found the right channel and set the squelch to get rid of extra noise, the voices came through very clearly.

“Family of three. No survivors. Murder/suicide. 3679 County Road. All emergency personnel report immediately.” The voice on the radio continued but there wasn’t any point in listening any longer.

Grace fell into Zach’s arms as they both recognized the address as her old homestead, the place where her brother had chosen to live. Hope’s family was gone.

Grace pulled away from Zach and looked at him with her tear soaked face. “Poor little Hope, but she made it out alive. My prayer for Richard’s family has always been Psalm 34:18. I prayed every day for the Lord to give comfort to Richard and his family. He had always been so tormented. I will never understand the demons that chased him but it is all in God’s hands now.”

“Yes, dear and if we follow your advice and read the rest of that chapter, you will see at the end, His continuing promise to us,” Zach comforted his wife and read the verses aloud.

18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
19 The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
20 He protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

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