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Authors: Francine Rivers

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BOOK: And the Shofar Blew
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Samuel had been on his knees praying when he heard Abby calling. He heard Timmy, too, and smiled. His old bones protested as he straightened. Paul Hudson had been on his mind all morning, and he took that as a need for prayer. Most of the church ladies thought he was “adorable,” but the men were not so enamored, feeling the pinch of new demands.

“You’d think I’d never run a meeting before the way he talks,” Otis had blustered over the telephone a few days before. “He told me he wants an agenda at the next meeting. I always have an agenda! He wants it printed out this time and enough copies to go around. As if that’s going to make a bit of difference to the way things always go. And he gave me a list he wants under the heading of
new
business. He wants a new sound system.”

Samuel tried to explain that Paul was simply trying to attract more young people, but Otis was on a roll. “Attract them with what? Rock music?”

He’d tried for a little levity. “Keep your shirt on, Otis. I’m sure he wouldn’t have Eunice playing rock music. Can you imagine?”

“No, but then there are a lot of other things I couldn’t’ve imagined a few months ago either. Like serving popcorn and sodas and showing movies in the fellowship hall!”

“He showed the
JESUS
film.”

“So he showed something worthwhile this time. What’s he going to come up with next Tuesday night? I don’t remember him even consulting us about whether he should or shouldn’t be using the hall for movies. Do you?”

Samuel found himself wishing for the old days when he and Henry Porter would go out for a round of golf and talk about church needs. Now, he had to call and make an appointment with Paul to talk about anything. And the young man was ready with his position statement, which usually started with, “This worked at Mountain High.”

It didn’t do any good to remind Paul Hudson that Centerville Christian was a long way from a megachurch. And the fact that new people were coming to church merely served to make Paul even more certain that his methods were working. He was like a shepherd using his staff to hook people into the congregation. But Samuel was afraid he was going to use that God-given gift to bludgeon the old members like Otis who couldn’t or wouldn’t keep pace.

“Sam-uuu-el!” Timmy knocked on the door.

Samuel stepped to one side and opened the door. “Who’s there?”

“Me.”

“Me who?”

“Mewwww.”

They both laughed. It was a silly game they played, but Timmy loved it. Samuel ran his hand over the boy’s hair as he welcomed him into the den. Timmy headed straight for the stack of children’s books on the bottom shelf beside Samuel’s desk. Samuel sat in his easy chair and waited. The last three times Eunice had brought Timmy by, the child had picked the same book. It was now tucked halfway down the pile. Timmy went through the pile, one book at a time, until he reached the one he wanted. Samuel lifted Timmy, plunked him on his lap, and opened the book he’d read more than a dozen times.

When he finished the story, Timmy looked up. “Fish?”

“Yep. I’ll bet they’re hungry.” Samuel set Timmy on his feet. He could hear Abby talking in the kitchen. Careful not to interrupt, he headed through the family room and opened the sliding-glass door. Timmy dashed outside, ran across the lawn to the waterfall in the corner of the yard, and peered into the pool at its base. “Koi!”

Samuel took a handful of food pellets from a plastic bag and poured some into Timmy’s hand. Timmy held the pellets carefully and threw one at a time into the water, laughing as the gold-and-white fish surged to the surface and slithered and splashed over one another to get a pellet. “The Lord made beautiful fish for us to enjoy, didn’t He, Timmy?”

“We eat fish.”

“So do we. Fish are good for eating. But we wouldn’t eat these fish.”

“Because they’re pretty.”

“No, because they’re bottom feeders. See how their mouths are formed? When they finish with these pellets, they’ll go down to the bottom of the pond and feed off whatever garbage they find there.” He hunkered next to Timmy, watching the swirling koi and thinking how people could swallow little bites of truth on Sunday morning and then dine on garbage all through the week. They could look beautiful, sleek, and healthy and be filled with all manner of evil. But he couldn’t tell all that to a little boy. It was a lesson meant for someone older, someone willing to hear. There were other lessons that needed to be taught to a child just beginning to see the world around him, hungry for knowledge of it, openhearted to the One who had created it.

“The Lord has made all the creatures of the earth, creatures great and small, each with its purpose. Perhaps God made them so beautiful because of the dirty job they have to do in cleaning the bottom of the pond.”

Timmy lost interest in the koi and wandered toward the rose garden along the picket fence. Samuel walked with him, hunkering again when Timmy pointed to a bud and wanted to know what it was. “It’s the beginning of a flower. See how the long stem reaches up toward the sunlight? Soon that bud will open and we’ll see a flower like this beautiful red, orange, and yellow one over here. It will last for a time and all the petals will drop, and it will become like the rose apple over here. It can be picked and made into a tea that’s good for you.”

He turned Timmy and tapped his chest. “Your heart is like that rosebud, Timmy. You’ll grow taller, stretching up, and inside you’ll want something you can’t explain. And then you’ll come to know Jesus, and feel the light and warmth of God shining down on you, and your heart will open little by little until you are open wide.” He held a flower close so that Timmy could smell it. “People will look at you and say, ‘Look how beautiful Timmy’s life is because of Jesus.’ And someday you’ll be an old man like me, and I hope you leave something behind that will help others know that serving Jesus makes us happy.”

“I know Jesus.”

“Do you?”

“He wuvs me.”

Others were disturbed at how many new people were coming into
their
church. Ninety-two people attended the last service. That was fifty-five more than had attended the first service. If numbers were the only thing that mattered, it looked as if Paul was off to a great start.

Paul still did visitation, more often to welcome new people. He had started a class on the foundations of Christianity. It would’ve been better received by Otis and Hollis if they had been part of the decision-making process. To be honest, Samuel had been hurt to be excluded as well. Hurt and disturbed. The last thing the church needed was a power struggle. He had tried to talk with Paul about it, but the younger man couldn’t seem to understand that there were channels to swim through before you set off into deep waters.

“Surely you don’t object to a class in what it means to be a Christian.”

“We’re to work in unity, Paul. A church can’t run smoothly without elders being involved. Otis and Hollis are good men who want the same thing you do: to keep Christ at the center of all we do. Be patient.” He saw the flicker in Paul’s eyes. The young man got the point. He’d stomped on three sets of toes and needed to make amends. Would he be humble enough to do so?

Paul didn’t say anything. He looked troubled and a little afraid. Time might help him see things more clearly. And all Samuel wanted to do was help him. “We can avert problems by having the elders read through your curriculum and give their approval.”

Paul had readily agreed.

Samuel did what he could to pave the way, but Otis had needed a few weeks to let off the head of steam he’d built up. It took a month before Samuel could get Hollis and Otis to read Paul’s curriculum for a six-week course in the fundamentals of Christianity. In the meantime, Samuel had read and studied Paul’s course, praying the Holy Spirit would show him anything that might be doctrinally incorrect. The course was a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was simple and direct with the appropriate authority of God’s Word. God’s grace and mercy shone through beautifully, and encouraged good works for the purpose of gladness and thanksgiving. Samuel was impressed.

Eunice had been the one to tell him that Paul had written the course while finishing his senior year in college. It was one of the primary reasons he had been offered a position at a megachurch in Illinois. “He’s a gifted teacher.”

Samuel believed so, too, but it took more than teaching gifts to pastor a church, especially one as small and inbred as Centerville Christian. Samuel had no doubt Paul was the answer to years of prayer. Still, good pastors weren’t born; they were mentored.

What looked outstanding in a classroom or thesis was not always easy to put into everyday practice. Paul Hudson had a lot to learn about shepherding people who were two to three times his age. Otis needed correction from time to time, but if it was to come from Paul, it had better be done tenderly as a son to a father, and not as a young ship’s captain giving orders to a tired, worn-down old sailor who’d spent the better part of his life in the rigging.

Lord, am I up to this? How do I mentor a young man who thinks he’s learned
everything he needs to know from a few years in college and watching his father
run a big church? He loves You. I’ve no doubt of that. He’s on fire. The problem
is he’s got a knack for setting off sparks. A sound system, for heaven’s sake. Lord,
You know how people get all het up over music. He’s only been on the job a year,
Lord, and I’m already beginning to feel like a fireman running around with a
bucket of water. I don’t want to put out his fire, Lord. I just want You to show
me how to bank it.

“Did God make heffalumps?”

Samuel was caught up short until he saw the screen.

“Well . . . ,” Abby said from the doorway, Eunice grinning behind her.

“He made the men who thought up heffalumps,” Eunice said, smiling at Samuel as she gave her son a hug. A cup of coffee and a few cookies with Abby had cheered up the young lady.

“And woozles,” Abby said.

Eunice smiled at Timmy. “Thanks for watching him, Samuel.”

“Anytime.”

He walked with them to the door.

“Say bye-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Mason, Timmy.”

“Bye-bye.” He waved.

Abby walked Eunice to the gate. Eunice hugged Abby and kissed her cheek. She said something and then turned away.

Samuel waved back. “Come back soon, little buddy.” Samuel waited at the door while Abby closed the gate and came up the walkway.

“Everything okay, Abby?”

“She was missing her mother and father. They haven’t been gone all that long. She’s still grieving, I think. Moving across country and putting down roots among strangers just brought it to the surface. And Paul has been so busy. . . . ”

“Anything I can do?”

She put her arm around his waist as they walked into the house. “Just what you’ve been doing.” She looked up at him. “Keep praying.” She slipped free again and headed for the kitchen. “I should get started on dinner.”

“Anything specific I should pray about?”

She cast an amused look. “Quit prying.”

“Just wondering.”

“You can’t fix everything, Samuel. Some things only come to rights with time and attention.”

“Well, I . . . ”

“Their
time and
their
attention.”

He gave her a mock scowl. “You know, you’re getting to be a sassy old woman.”

She grinned. “Better than being a nosy old man.”

Stephen parked his GMC at the Atherton project and gathered his paper-work. A quick check confirmed that a full crew had showed up. Hammers were pounding, saber saws screaming as the work progressed.

The underground and site development had gone smoothly. The hill behind the house had been terraced, the curving driveway from Quail Hollow graded. Forms had been built with stubs up through the floor for underground connections of water, sewer, electricity, telephones, cable television, and computers.

Materials were arriving daily as the walls were framed. Roof components were due to arrive by the end of the week. Everything was under the watchful eyes of numerous inspectors who had been in, around, and over the site and structure, making certain everything was done according to the newest updated building codes.

“Well, Decker, I’d say you don’t do anything by halves,” an inspector had said yesterday.

“I like building a house that’ll be around long after I’m gone.”

If everything went according to Stephen’s schedule, the project would be finished in ninety days, including the landscaping. Atherton had said initially that an acre of lawn with a scattering of ornamental trees and shrubs would satisfy him, but his young wife had managed to get his approval for a free-form pool surrounded by natural rock. Oh, and she wanted a waterfall spilling into it. Hence, the terracing. A few days later, she added to her list flagstone pathways and a gazebo with various lattices and built-in benches. Stephen did the research and informed Atherton that Sheila’s latest “want list” would come to more than one hundred thousand dollars. Did Atherton want to stick to the original plans or proceed with the amendments?

“Just do whatever she wants,” Atherton had said in the tone of an executive who had little time to waste and wanted his wife happy.

Building projects, even ones that went relatively smoothly, often caused friction between a husband and wife. But Stephen had the feeling the tensions he sensed between Robert Atherton and his noticeably younger wife had begun long before the ground was broken on this six-thousand-square-foot house.

He heard the crunch of gravel as a vehicle approached. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a silver Cadillac pull in and park next to his truck. Groaning inwardly, he rolled up the blueprints. A gentleman might have gone over and opened the car door for Sheila Atherton, but Stephen decided instead to keep a safe distance. She rose from her car like Venus from the sea, swinging her long blonde hair back over her shoulder as she came toward him like a model down a Paris runway. She wore figure-hugging black leather pants and a scoop-necked white sweater.

The saber saws screeched to a halt, and the hammers were noticeably silent.

If there was any doubt she knew exactly what response her getup would receive, it was quickly obliterated. She cast a radiant smile toward the crew and waved. “Hi, guys!”

Someone whistled. “Looking good, Mrs. Atherton!” another called.

Annoyed, Stephen realized his men weren’t the only ones staring. “Back to work!”

She laughed. “Oh, they don’t bother me, Stephen. I’mused to that sort of reaction.”

“I’m not surprised.” He tried to keep his tone friendly but neutral.

She put her hand on her hip and tilted her head, a glimmer of challenge in her blue eyes. “I was on my way to Sacramento to do some shopping, and thought I’d drop by and see how things are going.”

“Everything’s right on schedule,
Mrs.
Atherton.”

Her smile thinned. “How many times do I have to tell you to call me Sheila? You make me feel so old when you call me Mrs. Atherton.” She stepped close enough for him to catch the scent of her expensive perfume. “Why don’t you walk me around and show me what you’ve done since the last time I came by?”

“Not much has changed since the day before yesterday. And I have to get ready for an inspection.” The appointment wasn’t until four in the afternoon, but she didn’t need to know that.

Sheila Atherton shifted. She looked toward the house and then back up at him. “I’ve been thinking.”

He knew exactly what that meant, and gritted his teeth.

“We don’t have any skylights in the house, Stephen.”

“We’re building a skylight into the conservatory. Remember?”

“Oh, that one. I forgot about it. Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s not enough. I want one in the bedroom, a
big
one so that I can look up at the stars at night.”

“What does Rob think about the idea?”

“Rob doesn’t mind. He isn’t interested in anything but business.” Her eyes took on the look of steel. “He said I can do whatever I want, and I want a skylight in my bedroom.”

“Well, then, I guess we’ll draw up plans to put a skylight in your bedroom.”

“How much extra will it cost?”

“Depends on how many stars you want to see.” His little joke fell flat, so he decided to be blunt. “It’ll mean amendments to the blueprints, approval, structural changes, additional time, additional money, additional inspections.” You didn’t just cut a hole in the roof without it causing a few problems.

“Well, just give me the proposal when it’s ready. Rob will probably tell you to hire more men. He’s getting impatient to move in.”

“I’ll work up the drawings and have an estimate ready for your husband to sign by the end of the week.”

All smiles now, she stepped close. “I know it’s going to be absolutely gorgeous when it’s all finished. Everyone is going to envy me.” She put her hand on his arm and smiled. “Why don’t we have coffee together sometime? There’s a lot we could talk about besides the house.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Rob wouldn’t mind.”

“I doubt that.”

“You’d have coffee with Rob if he asked, wouldn’t you?”

“He wouldn’t ask.”

“Why not?”

“Neither one of us has time to waste.”

All the amusement vanished as her eyes flashed. “You can be downright rude at times!”

“You and your husband hired me to do a job,
Mrs.
Atherton. That’s where all my energy is going right now.”

Her eyes hardened. “What makes you think I want anything more from you than that?”

She reminded him of his ex-wife, sleek and blonde, hungry for possessions and power, bored and on the prowl when she got them. Poor Atherton. He’d probably started out thinking he had a nice, cuddly little kitten to keep him warm through his winter years, and was learning the hard way that he had a tigress by the tail. He looked Sheila straight in the eye and gave her a half smile. Silence said it better than words.

“What an ego you have, Mr. Decker. As if I’d look twice at a blue-collar worker like you!” She marched off to her car.

Relieved she was leaving, Stephen opened the blueprints and started making mental estimates of the time it would take him to add the skylight. For all he knew, she’d be back tomorrow wanting to raise the roof and add dormer windows. She slammed her car door so hard he winced. Backing up, she narrowly missed the driver’s side of his truck. She gave him a venomous look before she hit the gas pedal and sent up a shower of gravel from her spinning back wheels.

“Hey, Boss,” Tree House called from the scaffolding. “What’d’ya say to the lady to get her so ticked off?”

“None of your business!” As the work crew laughed, he turned away and muttered. “And that’s no lady.”

“Señor Decker always has trouble with the ladies,” Hector said from a ladder. “Even Sally at Charlie’s Diner has been asking about you.”

Tree House laughed and lifted a four-by-six into place.

Stephen pointed at his friend. “Keep talking, Hector, and I’ll ship you back to Mexico!”

“Hey, no problem, Decker. I was going back this winter anyway, and I’m taking a big hunk of your money with me!”

Stephen laughed.

BOOK: And the Shofar Blew
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