Even with the last rumblings of thunder from the previous afternoon storm, Harper rested well that night, a strange peace having come over her. Seeing Ava in a new and healthier place was encouraging. And she knew that she too had made giant steps toward renewed faith. If God could make such changes when we were not totally compliant, she thought, think what He could do with our hearts fully yielded and pursuing relentlessly, Him and His ways. She determined that pursuit would color her life from here on out. She determined when others looked at her, that instead of the world’s brokenness that so often overpowered her, the darkness that so often clouded her vision, they would see her ragged faith, yes, but also see a persevering soul with hope in her heart and a desperate purpose even in the mess.
She heard the text notification while she was in the shower, but forgot to check it once she got out and started to dress. It was Sunday, but since committing finally to Blaise’s fellowship group, she felt like her Sabbath was displaced in the week. So, she had planned to get some organizing and cleaning done in the house. Clutch was also in serious need of a bath. It had never been his favorite, but with the weakness that came with his aging body, it had become an even harder chore for both she and the dog. But it had to be done. His smell was beginning to fill the house, and her essential oils diffuser couldn’t mask it.
She was setting her tea to boil when she heard thumping noises in the backyard. June was accustomed to sitting out there at times singing, but she couldn’t imagine what she was doing to make such a racket at eight in the morning. She peeked out through the curtains in the back door, and there was Blaise tearing apart her falling down fence and stacking the rotten wood. She switched off the kettle and went to the back door.
“What in the world are you doing here so early?”
“Oh, sorry. Did you not get my text?” He threw a few boards in a pile and walked to the back stoop.
“I did hear something on my phone earlier, but forgot to check. So, you didn’t have enough punishment yesterday?”
He laughed at that. “Well, it’s not really punishment. I do so much with my mind in studying, it feels really good to do something physical, aside from the thorns and splinters, of course. Besides, if my mum decides to wander from her yard to yours, I fear she might trip over some of these boards.”
“That’s a good point. I didn’t think of that. Let me get some gloves, and I’ll come give you a hand. I’ll even bring you an old pair of Graham’s because that treated wood is nasty.”
Blaise and Harper worked in silence for a time. A lot of the boards had already fallen to the ground, and those left attached to the posts were no trouble to remove. They decided to tie them in bundles for a “large item” trash pick-up. Harper had a gas log fireplace, so she couldn’t use the wood; Blaise said sarcastically that he didn’t trust his mum and Elise with open flames; and the treated wood was not a good thing to burn anyway since the fumes might not be healthy, though Harper had not really researched that. It just kind of made sense.
“These posts are going to be a bit more problematic,” Blaise noted. “They aren’t strong enough to hold a rebuild of the fence, but the bases are sunk in concrete, so digging them out is going to be a lot of work. What do you think?”
Harper walked around a couple of them, thinking. “It’s definitely more work than I signed up for on a pleasant Sunday morning . . . and probably afternoon. Nor you either. Okay, what about this. Let’s just cut them off at ground level, and I’ll deal with it at a much later date. Procrastination is oftentimes my strongest suit anyway, so I think that makes sense. Your mum is having an ongoing love affair with my dog, and if I put up a fence, Clutch can’t go back to greet her freely. So as long as your mum is renting the place, let’s just have a communal yard. Sound good?”
“By the way, you must know it really is a blessing to her to have Clutch as a companion. She loves to sit out in the back there for hours, just petting him.”
“That’s another good reason for me to give him his bath today. He stinks. I think she will enjoy the interaction much better if he stinks of lavender instead of dog sweat.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but lavender will certainly be an improvement–and I’m pretty sure it is not just sweat I smell on him.” They both laughed at that.
They finished tying up the bundles of rotting boards with twine Harper found in her tool shed. Then they sat on the back stoop to take a breather. Harper gazed at the posts left standing. “I think I just had a brainwave.”
“That’s encouraging.” Blaise smiled at her.
“Funny. I think instead of chopping those suckers off, we should just leave them as they are. I will get hooks and potted spring flowers to hang from them so the posts are more obvious; I would hate for anyone to run into them by mistake. Actually, I may also twirl plastic streamers around them like a May Pole, so they look intentionally placed and not just eye sores. And voilà, they will also act as garden décor at the same time.”
“That’s not a bad idea, except for the pagan ritual of decorating a May Pole.” He smiled slyly.
“Okay, I just won’t call it that so as to redeem it. Kind of like pagan Christmas trees.”
“Sold. Oh, by the way, are you open to the idea of having food in the back room this Friday? I was thinking since this week’s gathering is going to be primarily Q and A, it might be fun to have a potluck. I could email everyone, if that’s okay.”
“I don’t see any problem with that.”
“It will be more cleanup, but we can all pitch in so as not to leave a mess. Food and fellowship kind of go hand in hand. It would be our first official church potluck. Sounds very conservative.” He smiled.
“If we get that churchy, we’re going to need a name for this group. Ava mentioned that, and I think she’s right. We need to think of something to call this meeting thing.”
“I agree. Maybe this week we can field suggestions and put it to a vote.”
“Great! By the way, you interrupted my breakfast, so I’m going to go and put my kettle back on. Are you hungry? I have some hash browns and tofu scramble I can heat up really quickly.”
“I had half an English muffin this morning on my way over. This bachelor’s cupboards are bare, and I need to go shopping; so, breakfast sounds great!”
Over breakfast, Harper and Blaise discussed church stuff, building stuff, neighborhood stuff, and his mother stuff. It was comfortable conversation, the kind they had been having for weeks. But all of a sudden, Blaise said, “So what made your marriage to Graham successful?”
The change in subject matter was kind of like emotional whiplash to Harper, especially with the feelings she had been battling. It was a more personal query, and she felt her cheeks flush. It was times like these she cursed her fair skin that acted as a billboard to her vulnerable emotions. She looked down into her empty teacup.
Blaise realized in a moment that he may have overstepped, and he apologized. “I’m sorry if that is too personal a question?
Harper took a breath and tried to relax. “No, you just kind of caught me off guard. We went from potlucks and worship music to . . . well . . .”
“I’m sorry, you don’t need to answer. That was insensitive of me.”
“No, it’s okay. Let me just think.” Harper paused to collect her thoughts. “Hmm, at first, I think we were successful because I let him win all the time. I know that doesn’t sound like success, but lack of conflict seemed a marker of success, at least to those outside. The role model he had in his father was of one who was strong, overbearing, and who always had the last word; so . . . when we married, I think he just unconsciously thought that was how it worked. I enabled him because I don’t like confrontation; and I didn’t know how or when to challenge him. But I was withering a bit inside . . . emotionally.” Harper brushed her hair back with the back of her hand.
“I can understand that. So, what changed?”
“When the baby died, I was already angry with God, and I just didn’t have the emotional reserves to suck it up and not be angry at Graham, too. I let him know my disappointment with God, and he got wrapped up in that wave of my honesty. So, when he treated me badly, I stopped swallowing it, and I let him have it.”
“Hmm, I can kind of see that happening.” He pretended to back away.
“Very funny. It was a tense time in our marriage, but I felt like I needed to be real, and if things fell apart, so be it. I couldn’t live the way things were, so . . . and that’s when we started seeing a counselor. She was awesome. It was hard at first, but we both learned a lot about each other, and how we could start over and fashion something new out of what had brought us together in the first place.”
“So, it was a happy ever after?”
She laughed at that. “Ha, no . . . not at all. We had some bumpy places, but less as time went on. I think the greatest gift the counsellor gave us were tools to deal with our disagreements. No cave hiding on his part; no pouting on mine. That made a huge difference in our communication. You know that not letting the sun set on your wrath thing? That became a goal in our marriage, and it made it so bitterness’s didn’t build up over unresolved pain.” Harper grew silent, and a wave of heartache washed over her.
“I admire your strength . . . and your honesty. You’ve come a long way . . . and through a lot of growing . . . I’m thankful you are willing to let me in to see the path you’ve walked. It encourages me.” His eyes never left her face.
“Thanks, but I don’t feel very strong much of the time. Especially since he died. But stronger since . . . well, I don’t know if God led you to Shiloh to start a church or not, I assume yes; but to be honest . . .” Harper hesitated, then took a deep breath. “Maybe God just sent you to rescue me. You have helped me find Him again, and I thank you for that.”
Just then, a rousing chorus of “Ain’t No Sunshine” sounded through the wall—loud!
“Well, sounds like Mum is in fine voice this morning.” They both laughed, and Harper was glad for the interruption.