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Rejoice as the Sun Shines on Restorations

 

 

Linda L. Linn

 

 

Revised edition of June, 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Preview

 

 

 Esther Beckett is in for the surprise of her life.  She thinks she still desires to get married, but she might be embarking on the biggest adventure she can imagine if she decides she can trust these men.  But who are these men and what are their intentions?

 Come and spend some more time in Pine City so you can find out.  You will also meet an older couple who are still very much in love, and have a deep yearning to see the restoration of lives and

to leave a legacy.  Renew acquaintances with some of the people in the Grace ‘n’ Faith Church who were in Book One of the Sunshine Series.

  This is an inspirational romance novel and it’s the sequel to “Everywhere There’s a Sunrise, Let’s Tell the Good News!”  The prologue of this story occurred before Book One.  The rest takes place concurrently, or after the events in Book One.

 If you haven’t read “Everywhere There’s a Sunrise, Let’s Tell the Good News!” yet, it would probably be most helpful for you to read it before your read this novel, “Rejoice as the Sun Shines on Restorations,” because it refers to many of the characters and happenings in that story.  Each is available to buy from thebookpatch.com.  Or get each of them as ebooks or PDF files, free of charge from free-ebooks.net, at the same time and then read them in the right order.

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

 This is a work of fiction, except for the Bible Scriptures, which are God's Word and are therefore true.  No person in this novel exists in real life except for God the Father, God the Son, (also known as Jesus, the Messiah), and God the Holy Spirit.  All the characters, places and events in this novel are fictitious.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.  Many things in the story, and especially the miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit can really happen.  

 This novel is meant for adults, not children, although with parental guidance, it has parts children might learn from or enjoy.

 Scriptures are shown by italics, and are this author's paraphrase of the King James Version of the Holy Bible.  I chose the King James Version because it has no copyright.  Basically, what I do is to change words like "thee" and "ye" to "you", "thy" to "your", take the "eth," etc. off words, and sometimes use synonyms, to make it sound like more modern English.  You can do the same thing as you read the suggested old hymns in a hymnal.

 The author encourages you to look up these scriptures in your preferred Bible translation and read them there also.  The Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs chosen for this novel really do have meaningful words and teachings.  I encourage you to look up each hymn and spiritual song in a hymnal or songbook.  If you don’t have a hymnal or a songbook, try looking up the title of the song on a web to find the lyrics.

 There is a list of the characters in this story in the addendum at the end of this novel.  It might help you to keep track of who is who as you go along.  If you decide to print the novel from a PDF file, you can use a regular bookmark to keep track of where you stop.  If you are reading it off the computer screen, just write down the page number where you stop reading.  If you are using an ebook viewer, for an ebook, it should have an electronic bookmark.

 

 

All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission.

 

Readers, please be aware that Internet Web sites offered as citations and/or sources for further information may have been changed or disappeared between the time this was written and the time it is read.

 

 

 

About the Author

 

 The author, Linda L. Linn, has lived in Colorado all her life.  She has believed in, and loved Jesus since she was a young child.  When not doing housework, cooking or baking, she likes to play the piano, write stories, sew, and read.  She also enjoys travel and photography.  

 Before she retired, she enjoyed teaching first, second, and third graders in the public school system for 27 years.  She and her husband, Richard, have traveled to see much of God’s beautiful creation in the western United States.  They are presently living in Montrose, Colorado.  She hopes you enjoy this novel,

 

 

 

Dedication

 

This novel is dedicated with gratitude to

the one and only Almighty God

for his love, the plan of salvation,

 and for the way he restores the people he created

if they will believe in, and accept Jesus as their Savior.

 

 

 

Prologue

 

Early November

 

 Early Saturday morning, Ruth and Esther Beckett were riding in the back of the family van, both looking out the same windows but for different reasons.

 Ruth stated, “I can hardly wait to get around the last corner and see our first view of the beautiful valley and the Yardley Dude Ranch where we get to spend the weekend.”

 Esther exclaimed, “I want to see the Mendoza's van so I’ll know if those two handsome boys will be here this weekend!”

 Which one will you have a crush on this time?” asked Ruth.

 That depends on how much Felix teases me and whether Nathan will be less shy this time,” Esther explained.

 Ruth smiled and nodded, “Oh, there it is!  It’s just as pretty as it always is no matter what season we come here.”

 I agree.  I’ve never been able to choose a favorite season.  Oh, I see it!  Their van is here and the boys will probably be here too!” stated Esther excitedly.

 Jason smiled as he sat in the middle seat of the van listening to his sisters.  Since his age was half way between the two of them, he had heard lots of interesting conversations.

 Their parents William and Anna heard all of this one also as they sat in the front seat.  William took his eyes off the road for a second to smile at his dear wife who nodded and smiled back.  In a short time they had reached their reserved cabin and they all got out to stretch and take their suitcases inside.

 It was only about a twenty minute drive from their home in Pine City, but it was on a winding road that took them up one side of a long mesa and then part way down the other side into the lower end of the dude ranch.  It brought them to a completely different world than the one in the city.  The ranch buildings were at the upper end of the valley and there were acres and acres of pastures.

 Anna asked, “What would you like to do first, Esther, since we’re celebrating your graduation from high school.”

 Go horseback riding of course!” she declared.  “But let’s go greet Oscar and Vera Yardley and any of their guests in the big house first.”  So they walked over there.

 Just then, Oscar opened the door and said, “Welcome!  Come in and join all of us for some hot herbal tea and visit with everyone.”

 They went inside and William said, “Hi, everyone.  It’s good to see all of you again.”

 They all had a nice visit and then Anna invited, “We’re going for a horseback ride.  Would any of you like to join us?”

 All of them decided to go riding and they met at the pasture to choose the horses they wished to ride.  Each person enjoyed getting reacquainted with his or her favorite mount by walking up to it and talking while rubbing its forehead or stroking its neck.  Then the halter was put on, lead rope attached, and the horse was led to the tack room where it was tied and brushed, the hooves were cleaned and the saddle and bridle were put on easily.  Everyone had a nice ride in the cool, fresh, morning air.  Then they all groomed the horses again, took them back to the pasture, and then cleaned the tack.  Horseback riding on this dude ranch was more than just the ride!

 Later in the day, the young people hiked up the hillside to see Lavender Falls.  Since it was autumn, it had less water and didn’t make a loud roar, but it was still spectacular!  Most of the wild flowers were already finished blooming.

 Felix asked, “Esther, how would you like a refreshing shower?”

 She replied, “No, thank you.”  Then she walked away with a frown, thinking that he was still just a big tease.

 After lunch they went rowing on Wild Mint Lake in some flat-bottomed boats.  Esther ended up in a boat with Nathan.  He was polite and helpful, but had very little to say.  It was a nice, peaceful time though.  She could hear Felix teasing Ruth who laughed it off and wasn’t bothered by it.  Jason had stayed on the shore and helped them all when they returned.

 The next morning they played croquet on the big lawn by the guest house.  Then in the afternoon, all of the young people took one more horseback ride and they all rode different horses than yesterday. Since the ranch was at the upper end of the valley, it bordered on public land.  The dude ranch owners had gotten permission for them and their guests to go horseback riding on that land.  The horses were all trained to cooperate with the rider on its back as the gate was opened and closed.  But they decided to not go there today.  Instead they stayed in the valley, and were close to one of the hillsides made by the mesas that flanked the pretty valley of the dude ranch.

 About half way through the ride something spooked the horse Esther was riding and it ran away with her.  She gave a little gasp and then remembered what Vera had told her to do if that ever happened.  She turned the horse so it would go uphill and then urged it to go even faster.  After a short time it got tired out, so it stopped easily when she said “Whoa” and pulled on the reins.

 Meanwhile Nathan and Felix had both quickly followed Esther to see if they could help her get the horse stopped.  When they reached her, she had already stopped the horse and was stroking it’s neck, talking soothingly to quiet it down and get it ready to walk back to the ranch.

 Nathan asked her, “Are you all right?”

 Esther smiled and nodded.  “Yes, thank you both for coming to help me.”

 They both said she was welcome and all of them rode slowly back to the ranch.

 Later that afternoon when all of them were getting ready to go home, they said their usual, “See you next time!”  None of them realized that their times to visit the dude ranch would not coincide in the future.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Jesus who gives me strength.

 

About nine years later in Pine City

 

 The first Monday in January, Esther Beckett arrived early at her new small group.  It appeared to have several other singles along with various couples.  Two exceptionally good looking young men were in attendance, and she thought they were probably single, since no women were sitting next to them.   She immediately decided to use her newly honed observational skills and things she had learned last year to find out as much as she could about them during small group times.  Since she still desired to be married, she was patiently praying that if it would be God's will, he would bring just the right man into her life to be her husband.  Maybe it would be one of those two.

 Esther looked their way from time to time and a faded memory came into her mind.  She thought, “I know both of them from someplace in the past, but I can’t remember where or when.”  She kept racking her brain and almost missed the opening comments.  She had brought a notebook to write down the names of all the people who would be in this small group for the coming calendar year.  So she opened it and was ready to write, and to introduce herself when the time came.

 “Welcome everyone!  We’ll begin with introductions.  Please tell us your first and last names, where you work, and how long you have been living in Pine City,” the facilitator instructed.  Then he started the introductions with himself.  “I’m Jeff Spencer.  I work for Evans Construction Company, and have lived in Pine City for 11 years.  Next is my wonderful wife.”

 She smiled, Hi, I’m Karen Spencer, and I work at Subs are Great.  I have also lived here for 11 years.”

 He motioned for one of the two young men to be next, and Esther was careful to write down all the information for him and the one next to him.

 Hi, I’m Felix Lucero.  I work at Valley Truck Farm, and have been living in Pine City since October.”

 “Hello, I’m Nathan Mendoza.  I work at the Yardley Dude Ranch in Mercy Valley, and have lived in Pine City since September.”

 At this point, Esther put her pen down and completely forgot to listen or write down the rest of the names.  Memories came flooding back and she had to school her features to keep from blushing and look down at her notebook to avoid staring at both of them.  She did manage to introduce herself when it was her turn.  “Hello, I'm Esther Beckett and I work with my brother, Jason in a Beckett CPA office.  I’ve lived in Pine City all my life.”

 She forced herself to sing the beautiful Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs and to at least look like she was listening to the teaching time, but she couldn’t have told you what it was about later because she was so preoccupied.  It would have helped her a lot if she had listened and concentrated on the words to the first song based on Psalm 23.  Its title wasSurely Goodness and Mercy.” During the conversational prayer time, she prayed silently for God to guide her and help her to only do his will where these two men were concerned.

 Esther had mixed emotions about the refreshment and fellowship time that was next.  In some ways she wanted to bolt like a scared horse and go home as fast as she could.  But she knew that would not solve her problem.  She had to stay and she hoped she’d be able to talk coherently and listen carefully to find out more about those men.

 After visiting with a few of the other members of the group, Esther found herself facing both of them at once, and almost could have laughed, because they both looked as nervous as she felt.  She found her voice and said, “Welcome to Pine City, Felix and Nathan.  I hope you’ll enjoy living here.  I can’t think of nicer places to work than each of you chose.”

 Felix replied, “Thank you for the welcome.  Nathan moved here first and talked me into coming to try it out for a while at least.”

 Nathan said, Esther, it’s good to see you again.  It’s been so many years.  Would you and Ruth be able to go with the two of us to the Healthy Eating Restaurant so that we could all get caught up on what has happened in our lives since we saw each other so many years ago?”

 Well,” she hesitated.  I’ll ask Ruth and give you a call, if you’d like to give me your phone number,” answered Esther.

 “Good, here’s my card” he said.  “I’ll be home all evening, but we need to be leaving now.”  Felix followed him outside after they thanked the group hosts.

 “What’s your rush, Nathan?  We could have stayed and talked a little longer.  There are so many things to find out.”  But Felix hushed when he saw the look on his friend’s face.

 When they were seated in the car, Nathan answered, “I was just afraid that we might scare her away, and we’ve only just found her!”

 “I understand.  She’s even more beautiful than she was as a teen when we first met her.  I think she might be a little taller and her shiny black hair is shorter, but very attractively cut and styled.  And of course she has developed into a very shapely woman!” Felix stated.

 “You’re right on every point.  I sure hope Ruth will agree to go with us to dinner, because I know Esther would never go with us alone.  Do you think we did the right thing by leaving our good jobs and moving here when we found out where she lived?” Nathan asked.

 Sure.  How else will we ever find out what we want to know without being here?” he replied.

 You make it sound clandestine,” Nathan worried.

 Felix snorted.  “You know what I mean.  But I guess it might look that way to her.  I have no idea how this might turn out!”

 

 When Esther got home that evening to the apartment she and her sister shared, she blurted out, “Guess who was in my new small group tonight, Ruth.”

 “I have no idea, but it sounds momentous,” she replied.

 Esther stated, “It is!  Ruth, do you remember that dream I told you about a couple nights ago?”

 You mean the one about the horse that got spooked at the dude ranch and ran away with you, but you got it to turn and go up the hillside while you urged it to go even faster so you could tire it out and get it to stop?” asked Ruth.

 Yes.  I didn’t tell you at the time about those two boys who chased after me on their horses and tried to rescue me, because I didn’t remember it right then,” said Esther a little breathlessly.

 Ruth questioned, “Are you going to say that they were both in your small group tonight?”

 Esther looked a little ashamed and admitted, “Yes, and I felt just like that horse I was riding must have felt, because when refreshment time came, I really wanted to bolt and go straight home.  But I made myself stay and talk to them.”

 Did they remember you?” asked Ruth.

 They did.  They remembered you also, and asked if you and I would go with them to the Healthy Eating Restaurant so we could all get caught up on what has happened in our lives since we last saw each other.  Then he gave me a card with his phone number on it so I could ask you and call him with your answer.”  Esther also explained how all the memories had come back to her after the men had introduced themselves at the beginning of the meeting.

 Ruth inquired, “Do you desire to go with them to dinner?”

 In a way I do, and in another way I don’t.  But I’ll go, if you’ll go with me.  It’s been so many years since we’ve seen them, and I know nothing about them except that they were in the small group, and what I remember from the times we spent with them at the dude ranch.  Maybe they’ve been in church, but I didn’t notice them.  

I guess I’ll have to admit that I’m a little bit leery and mistrustful about them at this point.  I wonder if that dream was a warning, or just a coincidence, or maybe too much pizza for supper that night,” she finished and shrugged.

 “Relax, Esther.  Let’s pray.  God, we know that you’re in control and we can trust you to keep us safe even if they turn out to be con artists, or crooks.  Should we at least give them a chance to prove themselves by going with them to dinner?”

 Esther added, “Father, please calm my nerves and help us make the right decision.  You know I only want to do your will so please guide us.”

 They waited in silence for a while and then felt they should accept the invitation, so Esther called Nathan.

 

  After the phone call, Nathan yelled.  Felix!  Esther called and said they’d go with us!  We have a double date for this Friday at 5:30 PM.”

 Wow!  She really looked like she wanted to run away like that horse did with her at the ranch.  I doubted that she’d agree to go with us, but it sounds like we’re going to get our chance after all,” Felix commented as he came into the room drying his hands on a hand towel.

 I agree about her looking like she wanted to run, and I admit that I don’t blame her, because I felt the same way.  How are we going to do this?” asked Nathan.

 You mean, what’s our plan of attack?” teased Felix.

 No!  How can you tease at a time like this?  I thought you had reformed,” scolded Nathan.

 “I’m sorry.  I think she brings that out in me and therefore I don’t stand a chance with her,” he apologized.

 Forgiven, and don’t be so hard on yourself.  Remember what we agreed to do in this project, and don’t lose your good sense of humor in the process.  Now let’s decide on some good ways to find out what we need to learn in this venture,” said Nathan.

 The first thing I plan to do is apologize for all the teasing I did when we were all at the dude ranch, and tell her that I am really trying to change.  Last year when I read the definition of ‘tease’ in the dictionary, I learned that teasing is annoying and vexes people, so I really do want to change.  But I already know that it will be tremendously hard because it’s so fun,” said Felix.

 “Change is always hard.  It’ll be hard for me to stop being so shy and instead be willing to share my feelings if it’s ever appropriate.  We’re a fine pair, aren’t we?  I don’t think I stand a chance with her, and you just admitted the same thing, so what are we doing here in Pine City?” asked Nathan throwing up his hands for emphasis.

 Felix replied, “Well, at least we’re being honest with ourselves and each other.  So let’s think through our double date.  It’s less than a week away.  Do we get to pick them up or are we meeting them at the restaurant?”

 “Esther would rather meet us there.  I think we have a long way to go to build up her confidence in either of us enough to let us pick them up or to go alone with us.  As I remember, Ruth mentioned a couple times at the ranch that she had no desire to get married.  Maybe we can find out if she meant it.  If so, maybe Ruth would agree to continue the double date idea until we have won their trust.  I have no idea how Esther feels about marriage.”

 “I don’t either, and I doubt it’s something we can just come right out and ask.  But I am glad Ruth will join us with Esther.  Do you think we need to get reservations?” asked Felix.

 “Yes.  I’m glad you thought about that.  I’ll call them right now.  After that I think it would be a good idea to pray for more guidance,” he said.

 

 On Tuesday when he arrived to work at the dude ranch, Nathan said to his bosses, Oscar and Vera Yardley,  Esther was there, and she’s even more beautiful than I remembered her being.  Thank you so much for helping me to find her and for the advice to talk to Don Ross the pastor of the Church you attend!  After we told him about our plan, he agreed to arrange for us to be in the same small group as she is.  I was about ready to give up after so many years of looking.”

 You’re welcome.  She was the younger of the two Beckett sisters wasn’t she?” asked Vera.

 Yes, she’s the same age as Felix and I are, so she’s now 27 years old.  Ruth is probably about four years older, and Jason said he was in the middle.  I don’t remember her parents very well because we were always outside having fun as a group.  I remember rowing on the lake or skating in the winter, fishing in the stream, and especially riding horses.  I enjoy the memories of our times together here.  Well, I better get to work.  What’s the plan for today?” he asked.

 Oscar answered, “After you help Vera with the yard cleanup, I want to show you how to smooth out the riding arena.”

 Okay, Vera, just explain to me what you wish to have done out there and I’ll get it done.  There’s no need for you to go outside in the cold this morning.  That’s what you hired me for,” said Nathan.  

 After Nathan went out to work in the yard, Vera mentioned to her husband, He seems like a very nice young man, so grown up compared to when he was coming with his family and that friend who was such a tease.  But I have a feeling he’s still just as shy as always.  If he hadn’t been looking for a certain special girl, I don’t think he would have had the nerve to come here and ask us anything,”

 Oscar agreed and asked, “Have you had any other ideas about the topic we’ve been discussing the past few months?”

 Yes I have,” Vera answered.  “Since we have no heirs because our two children died when they were young, we have a longing to make this ranch into more than just a dude ranch so it could be useful in God’s Kingdom now and after we die.  Our mistake is that we never get past the longing because every time we say something, we squelch it by saying, ‘we’re too old now to even try.’  Who says we’re too old to try?  Only us!  How would it work if we both write down every idea we can think of that could turn this place into something God could use.  Then we can go through each list together after we ask God to show us the best idea.”

 I think you’re absolutely right.  Let’s do that and abolish the statement, ‘we’re too old to even try.’  We don’t have to do this on our own.  God will help us and he will show us other people who can help us make a good plan work.  We can work on our lists today and talk about them after supper cleanup tonight,” Oscar recommended.  “I’ll go get ready to go outside and show Nathan the rest of the day’s work plan.”

 It’s a good thing you have good warm work clothes and coats since it’s so cold today!” Vera mentioned, and he nodded.

 

 In Pine City that same Tuesday, Esther went to Ruth's office building to join her sister, Ruth, and friend, Maria Gomez, for lunch.  As usual they went up and down the stairway for some exercise before eating since it was too cold outside to go for a walk.  

 Ruth began, I already told Maria about the double date coming up on Friday, so let’s start with prayer as we eat.  Father in heaven, thank you for this food.  Please bless it to our bodies.  The three of us good friends are here to agree in prayer that you’ll protect us and do your will in this unbelievable situation.”

 “Yes, thank you that you are here with us and you already know what you desire to have happen.  Give us the right words to say and help us act the way you want us to act,” continued Esther.

 Maria added, “Please give both of them peace and help them continue to remember that you are in control.  Give them the right questions to ask so they can find out what they need to know about those two men.”

 After a few more minutes of praying, Ruth closed the prayer time and began to tell Maria about the dude ranch.  “While we were still in public school, our family used to go to the Yardley Dude Ranch for a weekend almost every month.  It’s in the prettiest valley you can imagine.  There’s a stream running along one side of the valley, and a smaller stream coming down the hillside to join it.  On it’s way down the hillside, the smaller stream goes through a little area with rocks, some ferns and a spectacular waterfall.  I don’t recall its name right now.”

 Esther added, “Oh yes, it was one of my favorite places and it it's called Lavender Falls.  The rocks are a light purple color until the water makes them wet.  Then they become darker, but are still lavender.  Vera planted some lavender, you know the flower they use to make perfume, and some other light purple flowers around the area, so the whole area is especially pretty and fragrant when those are in bloom.  The ranch is huge with acres and acres of pastures. There are also trails for riding horses in the valley and on the hillsides on both sides of the valley.  Horseback riding was my favorite activity, but they also have a small lake for rowboats in the spring, summer, and fall.  It freezes smooth in the winter and is great for ice skating.”

 It sounds idyllic!  I’d like to be able to see it sometime,” said Maria.  “Is it a place that requires reservations?”

 Esther looked over at Ruth who nodded so she said, “We were going to keep this as a surprise and tell you later, but sometimes it’s better to be able to anticipate something for a while instead.  Our family has reservations to go to the ranch the last weekend in April.  Jason has other plans, so we have room for another guest and we chose you.  You’ll share a room with Ruth, and my best friend, Sunny, will share a room with me.

 Wow!”  Maria exclaimed.  “I’ll definitely look forward to going there with you and your parents.  Thank you ever so much!”

 You’re welcome.  Now let’s get back to the first topic,” suggested Ruth.  “We have a list of questions to ask them if we get to that point.  Who knows?  The date might not last very long.”

 Or maybe it’ll be mostly going down memory lane telling and reminiscing about all the fun we had together at the ranch,” said Esther.  “Just telling you a little about the ranch has brought many memories back to me.  The only one I don’t like is that neither our family nor Nathan’s nor his friend, Felix, were believers at the time.  We could have had a much deeper friendship if the Lord had been at the center of it all.  Plus, maybe Felix wouldn’t have been such a tease, or maybe I would have been more able to be patient with him and forgive him.  He was nice, other than the teasing, which was annoying.  I had crushes on both of them at one time or another.  Nathan was so shy, I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.”

 Maria commented, “They both sound interesting.  I think it was a good idea for you to meet them at the restaurant.  That way you can leave when you want to, and they won’t know where you live.”

 “Right, we won’t need a rescue like you did,” Esther interjected, and Maria laughed and blushed.  We’ll need to find out if they are believers.  Being in small group doesn’t prove anything.”

 Yes, and you need to know what their intentions are, and if you can trust them,” added Maria.

  Ever practical Ruth mentioned,I agree with you both, but I see that our time is up already, since Esther needs to drive back over to Jason’s office building so she can get back to work on time.”

 Maria inserted, I'll keep praying for you both.  Could we get together on Saturday, so you can tell me how it went?  Please come over to my apartment at 10:30, so you can tell me all about it and then we can eat lunch.”

 They both nodded as Esther waved and went out the door.

 

  At the ranch Oscar and Vera added to their lists, off and on through the day as many thoughts and ideas came to their minds after asking themselves good questions without the thought of being too old negating and thwarting their creativity.  When they got together to share, each one had a substantial list.

 Oscar proposed, “Let’s pray before we show our lists.  Father in heaven, thank you for the brains you’ve given us and ideas we have written without being hindered by negative thinking.”

 Vera continued, “Yes, it was fun to work toward a positive goal of ways this ranch could be used for your work and your glory.”

 Oscar finished, Now we ask that you will guide our discussion and point us to the best idea to reach our goal.  We pray in Jesus precious name.  Amen.”

 Vera asked, “Shall we exchange lists and read them first?”

 I like that idea,” he answered handing his list to her and taking hers to read.  While they read silently, if someone had been watching they would have seen smiles, nods, and thoughtful expressions on each face.  When they finished and looked up, each one had a finger on an idea written on their spouse’s list, and a big smile.  They erupted into laughter after being shown the idea each one was pointing to, and then they got up and danced all the way around the room together.

 Oscar stated, “I haven’t had so much fun in a long time!  Thank you, Lord, for showing us the best idea in such a fun way.  That was the only similar idea both of us had written down among the others, and it is the very best one too.”

 Vera picked up both lists and read the identical idea out loud from each list, “Turn this ranch into homes for girls in Caring Foster Homes with families who will love and care for them while they teach them the Good News and guide them to the Savior.  Then he can save, heal, restore and rehabilitate their lives.  The horses on the ranch will be an added blessing for the girls. The wording was almost the same on both lists.

 “Now we can start to develop plans to put this good idea into action.  Would you like to write ideas about that topic tomorrow during the day and we can read and discuss them in the evening?Oscar inquired of his beloved wife.

 She nodded and then took his hand to lead him to the living room couch where they could cuddle and visit for a while.

 The next evening they reviewed their lists of plans and typed out the best ones on a word processor and then printed several copies.  An appointment was made with the lead pastor of the Grace ‘n’ Faith Church for Thursday so they could discuss, pray with, and get his counsel on this project.

 

 Wednesday evening in Pine City after praying separately and brainstorming ideas for their date on Friday, Nathan and Felix sat at the table to discuss the ones they thought might work.  

 Would it be good for us to start off with memories of the fun times we had together at the dude ranch?” asked Felix.  Then I can apologize for teasing too much.”

 Nathan answered, “Those are both good ideas and will get the evening off to a good start.  Then it might be a good time to give our testimonies and hear theirs.  I assume that since Esther was in the small group, she’s a believer.  Possibly Ruth is in a different small group.  But it’s never safe to assume anything, so we need to find out.  If Esther isn’t a believer, then we would NOT be able to go any further in a relationship.  All we could do is pray for her.”

 You’re right.  The Bible is very clear about not being united with someone who doesn’t share our faith in Jesus the Savior.  So we need to find out that information very early,” agreed Felix.

 “I think then I’ll need to admit why we never followed up with our friendship after high school.  I’ll be terribly embarrassed to tell her that I was so shy I could never ask her for her last name and find out where she lived.  It certainly wasn’t lack of interest,” Nathan commented, shaking his head at himself.

 “I understand, because my pride got in the way of apologizing and therefore I couldn’t ask her those same questions, either.  We were both a couple of failures!  If only we could turn the clock back all those years and do it over!  We’ll find out on Friday evening if we’re any better now than we were back then,” Felix lamented.

 Oops!  We’re both going the wrong way on a road that’s supposed to stay positive.  Let’s say together what we agreed to do in this project,” suggested Nathan.

 They said it in unison, “We will help each other to be the best we can be, and give Esther the chance to choose the man she thinks would be the better husband for her.”

 It is a big goal, but we can do it with God’s help.” stated Nathan.  “After she chooses one of us, the other man will cheer them on, and then start looking for the best woman God has for his wife.  It’s extremely important for us to stay unified in this project and to remain friends after it’s over.”

 Felix smiled and nodded.  “Yes, we’ve been friends since first grade and we definitely desire to stay friends for the rest of our lives!  In addition, I guess we need to understand and accept the possibility of her rejecting both of us for whatever reason she might have.”

 “Correct, she could already be engaged or may have decided to never marry, or who knows what other reasons there might be,” Nathan agreed and looked somewhat dejected.

 Felix added, “She might decide she doesn’t like either of us, but we’ll never know unless we try, and we have decided to try hard!”

 Nathan concurred, “Yes, so let’s pray.  Jesus, thank you for being here with us as we’ve been discussing our plans and our agreements.  Please keep us focused and help us to do your will in this situation.”

 I agree, Lord,” said Felix,  “Thank you for the ideas to use at the beginning of our upcoming date.  Please guide everything we do and say through the whole date.  We pray in Jesus name.  Amen.”  Felix stood up, put his hand on Nathan’s shoulder, gave it a gentle squeeze, and then left the room to get ready for bed, since tomorrow was a workday.

 

 During breakfast Thursday morning, Ruth asked, “Esther, would you like for me to give you a summary of the teaching time at my Wednesday evening small group?  It’s probably similar to what was taught in your group on Monday since the small groups all try to stay on the same page.”

 Thank you, Ruth,” replied Esther.  “I would like that.  I’ll take notes on what you say so I can have it in my notebook.”

 So Ruth began, As is often the case, after singing several songs, the teaching time goes along so well with them and the scripture verses they usually list with the title in the hymnal.  The first song we sang was ‘Surely Goodness and Mercy,’ based on Psalm 23, especially the last verse, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Esther smiled.

 Ruth went on, “Then we sang ‘Anywhere with Jesus.’  The verse for it was 1 Peter 2:21b, which says, as I personalize it, Jesus suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps.  Even if we might have to suffer by following Jesus, we’ll be better off following him than going the way of the world.”

 She continued, “The third song was ‘Where he Leads I’ll follow.’  The verses were Mark 1:17,18.  Jesus said (to Peter and Andrew) ‘Come after me and I will make you become fishers of men.’  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

 Esther inserted, “They had no idea how hard it was going to be for them for the rest of their lives, but they didn’t even question Jesus.  They just followed him.”

 Ruth replied, “I agree and I don’t think I could have done that without asking questions and getting more information.  The last song was ‘Peace, Perfect Peacewith the verse in John 14:27, which you already know by heart.

 Esther responded, “Yes, and I know it would have helped me a lot to listen to the teaching time instead of reliving all those memories and being so upset about those two men being in the same group I’m in.  I’m glad we decided to be in separate groups this year so you could catch me up on what I missed by being so distracted.  I especially like that song and the verse I now quote in John 14:27 where Jesus says, Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, it is not a peace like the world gives.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  

  Ruth responded, “I agree.  Verse four in the song is exceptionally good for your situation, because it states, God is always on the throne even when our future isn’t known.  The main emphasis of the teaching was to be ready for any changes the new year might bring to us.  We need to pray and follow the Lord’s guidance every day.

 Yes, I’ll try to remember to do it every day,” Esther replied.

 Good, I will too,” stated Ruth.  The rest of the meeting was the usual explanation of how small groups operate and the importance of keeping praises and prayer times confidential, and only using names of the people who are in the group.”

 Esther smiled and said, Thank you again, Ruth.  Now I feel caught up with the rest of my group, and it’s a good feeling.”

 

 Just before leaving the office on Thursday, Maria ran up the stairs to ask Ruth what she and Esther would like to have for lunch on Saturday so she could buy it while she did her normal shopping on the way home today.  She enjoyed shopping for those supplies along with the rest of her food and looked forward to having both of her friends come to tell her about their date and then eat lunch together.

 As she was putting her groceries away, her calico cat was rubbing up against her legs and was generally getting in the way.  Maria stopped what she was doing and picked her up.  She immediately started purring as Maria stroked her soft fur.  

 I think you need more attention than I was giving you.  Are you hungry?  I’ll get you some supper just as soon as I’m finished here.  I’m so happy God gave me a good job with a Christian boss, this nice compact apartment, a loving cat to greet me when I get home, and good friends coming to visit on Saturday.  Thank you Jesus for all the blessings!  Please help Esther and Ruth as they go on their date Friday.  Keep them safe and guide them about what to say and do.  May your will be done in all things.”

 Maria put the cat down, washed her hands, finished putting everything away, and then fed her pet before getting her own supper.

 

 Before leaving work on the ranch Thursday evening, Nathan asked for permission to come an hour early the next day.  That way I could leave an hour early so Felix and I can get ready to go meet Esther and Ruth at the Healthy Eating Restaurant at 5:30 PM.  I’m definitely nervous about the evening, so would you two pray for us, that we’ll do and say only what Jesus would want us to in this situation?”

 Oscar answered, “Yes, of course, for both questions.  You’ve told us how important this is to you and Felix and that you both only want to do God’s will for everyone concerned.  So relax and trust God to do what he does best, as I paraphrase Romans 8:28.  God will work out everything for good because we love God and have been called according to his purpose.

 Vera added, “You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at the ways he works things out.  We would be interested to hear about your date if you’d like to tell us on your next workday afterward.”

 I’ll be sure to tell you all about it even if it doesn’t go the way I’d like it to go.  Have a good evening.  I’ll see you tomorrow,” Nathan responded.

 When he got to the apartment he shared with Felix in Pine City, Nathan asked, “Did your boss agree to let you come in and leave an hour early tomorrow?”

 Yes, he was very nice about it.  That’s something I really like about this city and especially the rural areas around it.  The people are usually friendly and willing to help,” answered Felix.

 

 It was Friday evening before Esther was ready for it to be, and she didn’t know where the week had gone.  She dressed carefully and she and Ruth were out the door and on their way to the restaurant.

 What if they don’t show up?  Felix might think it would be a good joke on us,” commented Esther.

 No problem, we’ll just go ahead in and eat a quiet, relaxed dinner on our own and enjoy it,” Ruth responded.

 Esther laughed and it relieved her stress.  Shortly thereafter, they parked and saw their dates waiting near the door, so they went to join them with smiles to hide their nervousness.

 Felix greeted them.  “Welcome Ruth and Esther.  Let’s go inside where we can hear when they call our reservation.”

 Small talk passed the few minutes as they waited.  “Mendoza, party of four,” the hostess called.  They followed her to a comfortable looking booth.  The men sat on one side and the ladies on the other side.  The hostess left menus for them to look at and said she’d be back shortly with water for them, and to take their orders.  The four of them got busy and studied the menus so they'd be ready to order when she returned.  After their orders were taken all of them took a sip of water at the same time as if it had been choreographed.  They all laughed about it, and it helped to break the ice.

 Nathan found his voice and complimented the ladies, Ruth and Esther, you both look lovely this evening.  It’s so good to be able to see you again.  Thank you for agreeing to have dinner with us this evening.  I’ve been thinking back on our fun times together at the Yardley Dude Ranch.  The memories are mostly good ones.”

 Esther responded, “Thank you for the compliments.  Both of you look very nice also.  We have many good memories of our times together at the dude ranch too.  I especially enjoyed horseback riding in their beautiful valley.”

 “Even when that horse ran away with you?” asked Felix.

 She laughed and answered, “Yes, I liked it even then.  I appreciated the way both of you were concerned enough to come and help me.  Vera had taught me what to do if the horse I was riding ever ran away with me, so I tried it and it worked.  She said to get the horse headed uphill and then urge it to go even faster, which would tire it out so it would be willing to stop when you said ‘whoa’ and pulled back on the reins.  It was an exhilarating ride!  Vera had also told me to take the horse back to the place where it had spooked, and get it used to that area so it wouldn’t happen again.  Do you remember, we found a scarf caught in a bush and it was fluttering in the breeze?”

 Felix nodded.  “Yes, you dismounted, retrieved the scarf and put it in your pocket.  Then you remounted and we went sedately back to the ranch where we all had to walk the horses around the ring several times to cool them down and do extra grooming on the horses because they had gotten overheated.”

 Ruth didn’t run her horse, so she didn’t have as much to do,” remembered Nathan.

 “That’s because I was there when Vera told Esther what to do with a run away horse, so I just waited for all of you to return,” explained Ruth.

 Nathan commented,Oh, I understand now.  Horseback riding was also my favorite thing to do at the dude ranch.  Along with it, I enjoyed rowing on the lake in those flat-bottomed boats.  The lake was great for ice skating in the winter.”

 Esther remarked, “Yes it was.  We enjoyed doing those things also.  On our next trip to the dude ranch, Vera told me they had trained that horse to not be afraid of fluttering scarves or anything else.  I don’t think it ever ran away again.”

 Ruth shared, “One of my favorite memories is looking forward to our weekends at the ranch, driving there, and coming around the last corner where the whole valley just opened up in all of it’s beauty.  I’ve never found a more delightful or excellent place to spend a weekend.”  Everyone nodded agreement.

 Their salads arrived at their table just then and Nathan asked, “Is it all right with you if I pray before we eat?”  They both nodded, so he continued, “Father, thank you for this time we get to have together to renew our acquaintance and restore friendships, and for all the food we’ll be eating.  Please bless it to our bodies, and our bodies to your service. I pray in Jesus name.  Amen.”  The others added “amen” and started eating.  There was a comfortable silence for a few moments.

 Ruth remarked, “This salad is delicious.  I even like it without dressing because it’s so fresh.  What memory do you have about your times at the dude ranch, Felix?”

 He realized this would be a good place for his apology, so he said, “This memory isn’t a good one.  I remember doing too much teasing most of the time, and I do apologize for doing that.  Please forgive me.  I’m really trying to stop teasing, but I know it will be hard for me to change.”

 Both of the ladies smiled, thanked him for the apology, and told him that of course he was forgiven.

 Nathan said, “The one memory I would change if I could, is that while we were having so much fun at the ranch, Felix and I were not believers, so we didn’t give God the honor he deserved.  About five and a half years ago my family and Felix went to hear an evangelist at a big stadium in a bigger city near here.  He explained the gospel in such a clear way, that we all finally understood what Jesus had done for us and our need to believe in him.  So we all went forward and accepted Jesus as our Savior, and we’ve been learning how to serve him ever since in a good church and small groups.”

 Ruth and Esther looked at each other in pleased surprise and Esther asked, “What was the name of the city, and what month was it?”  After he told her, she continued, “My family and I were there at the same time.  He was only there the one day, and I praise and thank the Lord that the same thing happened for our family, except for Jason, who wasn’t with us.  But we kept praying for him and he finally became a believer near the end of April last year, and Jesus healed him.”

 “Wow!  This is really amazing and wonderful.  It was a glorious coincidence that we four became believers on the same day at the same place even though we didn’t know about it until right now,” said Nathan.  Plus we’re overjoyed to hear about Jason also coming to the Lord and being healed of his bipolar disorder.”

 They all nodded and would have had a rousing praise time if they had been in an appropriate place for it.  Instead, they quietly praised God for his goodness.  The waiter came and removed empty salad dishes and another one brought their orders, so they were again comfortably silent as they started eating and thinking about what they had just learned about each other.

 Nathan broke the silence.  I have another memory I regret.  I’m sorry I wasn’t able to keep in contact with you after high school when our times at the ranch no longer coincided.  It was my own fault, because I was so shy that I was never able to ask for your last name or where you lived.  I’m so glad I finally thought about asking the Yardleys if they remembered your family and knew where I could find you.  They very graciously told me and I am extremely thankful.”

  Don’t worry about it, Nathan,” Ruth responded, “Many teenagers are shy.  The Yardleys are nice people and are part of our good memories.”  Then Ruth asked, thinking that maybe Nathan needed a rescue from his embarrassment. “What did you both do after high school?”

 Felix answered, “We both went to the university in our city.  I got my degree in farming and agriculture.  My minor was coaching sports.  Nathan got his degree in counseling children and teens, and his minor was horse care and training.  We’ve been working in those fields since graduation.  What have the two of you and Jason been doing?”

 Your fields of study sound very interesting.  The three of us got our degrees in accounting by attending the university here in Pine City while we lived at home to help save money.  So we’re all busy helping people with their bookkeeping,” answered Esther.  Plus we’ve been learning a lot at Grace ‘n’ Faith Church and in small groups about how to live the way Jesus desires for us to live.”

 Nathan felt much better after his admission, and what Ruth had said helped even more.  He commented, “It’s unusual for all of the siblings to major in the same thing, but it sounds like it has worked well for you three.  I agree with you, Esther, the right church and good small groups are immensely helpful.  I moved here in September and went to church with Oscar on Saturdays and to his small group also on the night it met during the week.  He and Vera have to go separately, so one of them can always be at the dude ranch, so she goes to church on Sundays and to a small group on a different night of the week than Oscar.”

 Felix explained, “Before we moved here we had been attending a church and small group in the city where we lived.  When I moved here in October, I joined Oscar and Nathan.  In December, we began attending Church #4 with Vera and in January, we were put into the same small group that you are in now, Esther.”

 “I think this church is amazing,” Nathan commented, “the way it uses one building for 12 different church services on the weekend, each with it’s own pastor who also has a job to support his family, but they all work together and stay on the same page.”

 Felix agreed, “Then they grew so fast last year that another building and school were built to make room for continued growth.  It has another 12 churches with their own services.  I don’t know anything about the schools, but I’d like to find out sometime.

 Esther suggested, You might want to ask Julie Blake about the church school.  She’s in our church and teaches there, or you could ask at the church office.  I think they have a booklet about the school.”

 Thank you for the information, Esther,” responded Felix.

 Ruth remarked, “I’ve heard some people say that a church like ours couldn’t happen because it would be impossible to get so many people to cooperate and work together.  But it isn’t impossible with God.  Grace ‘n’ Faith Church is proof of that.”

 The rest nodded emphatically and since they were finished eating now and Nathan asked, “Would you like to have some dessert?”

 Only if it’s something very light.  Ruth, would you order for me while I go to the ladies’ room?  Please excuse me,” said Esther.

 Nathan grabbed this opportunity to question Ruth, “Do you know whether or not Esther has decided to remain single?”

 “She’s still praying for God’s leading, but has told him of her desire to be married if he would bring the right man into her life,” Ruth responded.

 Thank you, and how about you?” he asked next.

 I prefer to remain single,” she answered, wondering where this line of questioning was going to lead.

 Nathan continued, “I didn’t mean to be intrusive with those questions, but I needed to know the answers so I can ask the next question.  Would you be willing to continue going with us as a foursome so Esther would be more comfortable?”

 First, you need to tell me what you’re planning.  What is your goal?” Ruth inquired.  Felix quickly explained their joint project to Ruth and she nodded.  “I’ll agree to accompany the three of you so you can let her choose, but only if you tell her what your plan and goal is.  I know she would not like to be in the dark about it.”

 Nathan looked to Felix for his agreement and said, “All right, we’ll explain it all to her.  Thank you very much, Ruth, for telling us the information and for agreeing to go with us.  Would you please pray for all of us as we undertake this plan of action?”

 Of course I will,” she replied.  “Here comes the waiter.  Let’s order and eat dessert before you explain it to her.”  They nodded.

 Esther returned to the table and soon their desserts were delivered.  Small talk was enjoyable as they ate, and as soon as coffee or soft drinks were refilled, Nathan began, “Esther, Felix and I talked to Ruth while you were gone, and she agreed that she’d join us in a plan we’ll explain to you.  We hope you’ll agree to try this, and we’ll understand if you need some time to think it over.  So please listen, and know that we only want the best for you and our intentions are completely honorable.”

 Esther looked completely confused, but she nodded.  Therefore Nathan explained to her about the joint project he and Felix had.  They even recited in unison to her about their agreement.  “I know this might seem sudden to you, but we’ve been looking for you for years.  We finally found you, and today we were all pleasantly surprised to learn that we’re all believers.  Now we would like to know if you will give us a chance to let you choose.  If you decide that neither of us would be best for you, please be honest and tell us,” Nathan said.

 Esther swallowed and responded, “I feel highly honored that both of you would make a plan like this and work together to help each other, leaving the choosing to me.  Thank you for telling me about your plan so I could know what to expect.  I have to admit to being so surprised and uncertain that I am hesitant to answer right now. Could I take a day to pray and think about this and also talk to my parents and Pastor Don to get their input?”

 Certainly, and we apologize for any upset this might cause for you,” answered Felix.  “I guess we didn’t envision how you might feel about our plan.”

 Thank you, and I forgive you.  There’s no way to know ahead of time how others might respond to something we plan,” Esther replied.  “Thank you both for the trip down memory lane and the delicious dinner and dessert.  I’ll call tomorrow evening.”

 Ruth added, “Yes, thank you both.  She has a lot to consider and contemplate, so I think we should leave now.”

 Nathan responded, “You’re both very welcome, and we thank you for coming and being willing to listen to and reflect on our plan.  We’ll be home tomorrow evening.”

 Everyone said goodbye and the ladies left.

 Felix and Nathan watched them go and wondered how it would all turn out for them and for her.

 Maybe we didn’t do a very good job of thinking through this whole project.  I never imagined it might cause Esther distress, but she did look really tense at the end,” mentioned, Nathan.

 Felix responded, “Well I guess we’re destined to live and learn the hard way about everything, even though our intentions are good.  I hope she will give us a chance to prove ourselves.”

 Same here!  Let’s go pay the bill and go home so we can pray some more about the whole plan,” suggested Nathan.

 

 Where are we going?” Esther asked when she realized they weren’t headed to their apartment.

 I thought it would be best to go straight to Dad and Mom.  We can ponder and study this better with them, than trying to figure it out on our own,” replied Ruth.

 At least it wasn’t late, so they didn’t have to get their dad, William, and mom, Anna, out of bed.  When Ruth and Esther finished telling them this unbelievable story, they all took turns praying about it in the way it would be done in a small group, just like a conversation including God.

 Then William clarified, “Did you say they both left their other city and jobs, moved here and got new jobs to carry out this plan after they found out where Esther lived?”

 Yes, Dad, that’s what they told me while Esther was in the ladies’ room.  Then they asked me if I’d be willing to accompany them on all the dates so Esther would feel more comfortable,” Ruth answered.

 And you said ‘Yes.’  Thank you for being willing to do that for me, Ruth.  I know I’d be worried about going with them alone.  I’ll be uneasy even with you there, but you’ll make it tolerable.  I’ve never been so astonished and confused and disoriented in my life.  What do you think I should do, Dad and Mom?”

  Anna asked, Do you still desire to be married?”

 Yes, Mom, I do, but only if I can be sure it’s what God wants for me and he gives me the right man,” replied Esther.

 How will you know which man is the right man?” Anna asked her daughter next.

 I already read the book you gave me in high school another time when Maria and I were discussing this topic last summer.  It has a lot of good traits to look for and guidelines for me to use as I get to know a man,” she answered.

 Ruth commented, I overheard Fiona Anderson talking to a single young lady in my new small group this week.  Fiona was saying that after she came home from taking care of her elderly great aunt, she basically had a list of things to look for and tests for Matt to pass before she would agree to marry him, if he asked her.  He passed all of them with flying colors, and they are now very happily married and are expecting their first child.”

 “I’d like to talk with her and get some more ideas of things to look for.  I’ll call her sometime soon and see if I can visit with her and write down her ideas in my notebook.” Esther remarked.  

 William inquired, “What are some ways you can find out about those traits in a man?”

 Esther smiled when she realized what her parents were trying to get her to acknowledge.  “I can observe them in small group and on every date we go on with Ruth as my support.  The part I like the least about this plan, is that I must choose between them and I don’t want to be the one who would hurt either one of them.  It makes it so much harder, knowing they both love me.”

 I’m glad you feel that way,” Anna declared.  “Some women enjoy leading a man on and then dumping him.  I’m glad we raised two ladies who are sensitive to others’ feelings.”

 Ruth smiled her thanks to her mom and stressed to Esther, Remember what they said in unison about helping each other be the best they can be so you could choose the one who would be the better husband for you.  They’ve already accepted the fact that only one of them can be chosen and are giving you that privilege without fighting over you.  They told me they’re committed to staying friends all the way through this and then cheering on the one you choose.”

 Wow, that is a good thing for me to remember as I observe them.  Actually, this is an amazing opportunity.  I’ll get to see and compare both of them at once on each date and at the small group,” Esther observed.

 William agreed, “Exactly correct, and you’re a mature lady who is a Christian, so Jesus will help you all the way.”

 That’s right,” said Anna.  “I remember you telling me you had a crush on both of them while we were at the dude ranch.”

 Yes, I did.  But not on both of them at the same time,” Esther laughed.  “Each one was truly appealing in different ways.  Nathan was quiet and shy, and I didn’t really know what he was thinking.  He said he regretted being so shy that he couldn’t even ask me my last name.  Felix was a big tease and I did not enjoy that as a teen.  He apologized tonight and Ruth and I both forgave him.  He said he’s really trying to change,” explained Esther.

 William inserted, “Both of those traits could be hard to live with if they are carried to excess.  So there is the first thing in each of them you need to look for and evaluate.  But it sounds like you’ll need to give each one some time to make the change.”

 Thank you, Dad.  I’ll be sure to do that,” Esther responded.

 Ruth remarked, “Both of them were exceptionally polite and seemed sincere about their belief in Jesus, and in their desire to make this joint project work.  They were even sorry if their plan caused upset for Esther.”

 Esther nodded and added, “At first we were concerned that they might be con artists or crooks, but since they both admitted to their faults and asked for forgiveness, I don’t think they are.”

 Therefore, what’s your final verdict in this case?” William inquired.

 Esther answered, “I think Nathan and Felix deserve a chance to do their joint project, and I need to be a conscientious, fair judge.  How do you feel, Ruth?  Do you really want to be involved in this plan of theirs?  I know I could not do it without your help!”

 Ruth replied, “You are my dear little sister and I desire to see you happy.  I’ll do whatever I can do to keep you safe in this endeavor.  I don’t want you to get hurt in any way.  Maybe we’ll even be able to enjoy these dates.  I can’t imagine two men wanting to take a self proclaimed thirty-one-year-old spinster and her younger sister on dates.  They must be certain of their love for you, Esther, and that is a real compliment to you.”

 I hadn’t thought about it that way, but you’re right like you usually are, my wonderful big sister.  Thank you for your willingness to help in this situation.  Thank you, Dad and Mom, for listening and guiding us to an answer to this dilemma.” she said.

 “You’re welcome!” they said.  Then Ruth and Esther went home to the apartment they shared and had a peaceful night of sleep.

 

  Saturday morning Maria awoke looking forward to a visit with her friends and also wondering what they’d tell her about their date the evening before.  She glanced at the clock and gave a little gasp.  Apparently she had slept in and only had an hour to get ready for her guests.  She jumped out of bed and scurried around straightening things up after a quick breakfast.  At least she had planned their lunch the night before and had it ready to put in the slow cooker, which she did and started it so it would be ready by noon.  She was ready with time to spare, and they arrived on time.

 Welcome, Ruth and Esther.  Both of you look rested and well.  Please come sit in these comfortable chairs and tell me all about your date last night,” Maria invited.

 Esther declared, “You are not going to believe this story.  In fact I’m still unsure after living it.”  She and Ruth took turns telling Maria about everything that had happened at the restaurant and then at their parent’s home.”

 You’re completely right,” stated Maria.  I would have a very hard time believing this story except that I know for sure that you both always tell the truth.  It reminds me a little bit of the way your brother told me about his love and desire to marry me, when he had me come to his office that day last spring.  Only this is double for you, Esther.  TWO men basically declared their love and intentions, and now you have to date them together and choose the one you think is better to be your husband!  No wonder you’re overwhelmed!  But, it could be a great adventure for you.”

 Ruth agreed, “I’ve never heard of this kind of thing happening before in my lifetime, but it does have the possibility of being a great adventure.”

 I can’t imagine dating two men at the same time!  Esther, you’re much braver than I could ever be!” exclaimed Maria.

 Esther stated, “I’ve decided that it might not be so bad.  Ruth will be with me every time as my support, and I’ll be very busy observing both men so I can make the right choice.  But we are also going to get Pastor Don’s counsel on the matter this afternoon.”  

 Maria inserted, “It’s really a good idea to talk to Pastor Don.  He has helped me so many times!”

 Esther said, “I’m glad.  So let’s pray about it right now and then we can eat lunch and talk about other things.  I think I’m about saturated with this topic for now.”

 After they had taken turns praying about the unique situation, Maria thanked the Lord for the food, and they enjoyed regular visiting about other topics while they ate the lunch she had prepared and they helped with the cleanup.

 After lunch Ruth and Esther stopped at the Ross house for a 1:30 PM appointment they had made before going to see Maria, to talk to Pastor Don about the situation.  They greeted his wife and children and then went into his office where they told him the state of affairs.

 Pastor Don responded, “I agree with you. This is decidedly unusual.  Nathan and Felix came here together to discuss their plan with me and I’ll tell you the same thing I told them.  ‘The most important thing you should do is pray to ask God if this could be his will for you.’  I won’t tell you the rest of the conversation so as to not betray their confidentiality.  Let’s pray about it together now and trust God to give you his answer.

 When they finished, Esther again felt she should give Felix and Nathan a chance to do their project and ask God to help her be a fair judge to choose one or maybe neither of them to be her future husband.  She’d also continue to ask for God to make his will clear to her about singleness or marriage.

 Then Ruth and Esther went home to do some of the weekend housework that was waiting for them.

 Later, that Saturday evening, Esther called Nathan’s phone number and was happy she didn’t get his voice mail.  “Hello, Nathan, this is Esther.  If Felix is there also, would you turn on your phone’s speaker so he can hear this at the same time?”

 Hello, Esther.  Yes, Felix is here and is listening to hear what you’re going to say.  Thank you for calling.” answered Nathan.

 Nathan and Felix, I’ve talked to my parents and my pastor, and we’ve prayed about your plan.  We feel it would be a good idea to have Ruth join us on the dates and I’ll do my best to get to know you both and then choose the one I think would be the better husband for me.  The hardest part for me, will be the choosing.  I don’t desire to be the one who will hurt the man who isn’t chosen.  And, if for some reason I don’t choose either of you, it would be even harder.  So in advance I wish to apologize for however it turns out,” Esther finished, took a deep breath and tried to relax.  It had been harder to tell them her answer than she had imagined it would be.

 Both men said something like, “Thank you, Esther, for agreeing to give us a chance to carry out our plan.”

 Then Felix stated, “Don’t worry about the choosing.  We already know that only one can be chosen and maybe neither.”

 Nathan added, “Yes, relax, Esther, and know that we’ll be praying for Jesus to lead all of us every step of the way.  Maybe you’ll even be able to enjoy our times together.”

 That sounds like a good idea.  Thank you both for reassuring me.  If I remember to not focus on having to choose, I’m sure I will enjoy our times together.  I’ll let you go now, and see you at the small group Monday evening,” Esther responded.

 Very good,” said Felix.

 “Have a nice evening,” Nathan added.

 Felix hung up the phone and the men had a little praise session ending with more prayers for guidance and wisdom to proceed.

 

 Sunday all of them were in church and Esther could see them sitting on either side of Vera near the front of the church.  She forced herself to not look their way or be distracted by them.  Her self- discipline paid off and she was able to worship and listen carefully to the teaching time, taking notes on the most important parts so she could review them later.   

 Then just before the end of the service, since Maria was sitting next to her, Esther whispered an explanation to her about where the men were sitting so she could get a look at them, before the people started moving around.

 They’re both very handsome,” Maria whispered to Esther.

 Esther nodded and then kicked herself for blushing.  She was acting like a teenager.  It had been years since she had been on a date, except for the one with Tony last summer, and nothing had come of that one either.  Sometimes she wondered if she’d ever get married.  Then she repented and asked God to forgive her for not being able to leave the whole question of being single or married in God’s more capable hands.

 

 On Monday Nathan arrived early at the ranch to tell the Yardleys about the date he and Felix had with Esther and Ruth.  They were just as amazed as the others had been, when they had listened to the ladies describe the date.

 Oscar asked, “Did both of you really quit your jobs and move here just to be able to date Esther and let her choose the one she likes better?”

 I know it sounds crazy, but this is very important to us.  The last time we were all here together, Felix and I told each other that we’d like to marry Esther when we graduated from the university, but that we knew only one of us could actually do it.”  Then he recited for them the agreement he and Felix had made.

 Felix has helped me as we’ve been looking for her for all these years since graduating from the university, and we’ve been comparing her with all the other girls we’ve met in between.  Not one of them measures up to her.  She’s not only beautiful, she’s also intelligent, talented, sensitive, articulate and gracious.  Most wonderful and most important of all is: we found out on the date that she also shares our faith in Jesus,” Nathan explained.

 Vera responded, “Wonderful, thank you for explaining.  We understand, and we’ll certainly pray for God to bless your venture and for only his will to be done for all of you.”

 “We’ll truly be grateful for your prayers and God’s help.  Now it’s time for me to get to work.  What are your plans for today?”  After listening carefully to Oscar’s answer, Nathan left the kitchen and went outside to work.

 Oscar asked Vera, Do you think we should mention any of our ideas to him?”

 She replied, “I don’t think so yet.  I’d rather get to know him better, since it has been so many years.  I wish to see if his life matches what he told us about being a Christian now.”

 I agree.  He’s been working here since the first week in September, and I can see that he’s a good worker who learns quickly and likes to please us,” concurred Oscar.

 Let’s keep the rest of this discussion until after supper so he doesn’t walk in here and catch us talking about him.  I’ll look forward to talking more about our ideas then too,” suggested Vera.

 Good, I’m getting excited about those!” he exclaimed.

 

 At lunchtime in Pine City on Monday, Maria resisted the urge to ask Ruth more about the two men and the date they had on Friday.  She would share more if she so desired.  Instead, they discussed things they had liked about the service at church yesterday.  

 Ruth said, “We sang some of my favorite songs that go so well with a new year just getting started.  The scripture verse, Psalm 90:12 says, teach us to number our days, so we may apply our hearts unto wisdom, has been one of my favorite verses for a long time.  That verse and the song ‘Another Year is Dawning’ were a good lead in for the teaching time.  I like all the verses in that song because they’re an excellent prayer to use more than just once a year.  In fact, I pray through it once a week on Monday mornings before coming to work.”

 “I think I’ll try your idea starting tomorrow and then each Monday.  I remember the song was about waiting, leaning, and trusting, and about God’s faithfulness and grace, plus some things I can’t remember,” stated Maria.

 Right, and the song ‘God of the Ages’ is also a good one.  So is the Bible verse that goes with it, Psalm 91:2, I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God; in him I will trust.  I like the way the song talks about the past, present, and future and how God plans and shapes everything that concerns people.  The authors of both of those songs really did a good job when they wrote the lyrics.  I wish I could write good song lyrics,” Ruth added.

 “Have you ever tried?” Maria questioned.

 She replied, “No, but maybe someday I will try.  I know there are rhyming dictionaries that would be a big help.  It might be a fun activity to do especially on the weekends when I have more time, but only after all these double dates are over.”  

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Joshua 1:9, … Be strong and of good courage, do not be afraid …  

or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

 

  At the ranch Oscar commented after supper cleanup, Well, Nathan’s gone now, after a profitable day of work.  He works as hard as I used to be able to work.  I miss those days.  Anyway, I'm glad we hired him because he’s getting the ranch back into shape.  I didn’t realize how rundown it was getting.  It’ll make the next few months of reservations for the dude ranch go better.”

 I agree, and if we tell all of those who come that we won’t be making any more reservations, we’ll be able to go ahead with our new plans.  This has been a very good dude ranch, run first by your parents and then by us, but we’ve longed to make it into something more, something better than just a place for people to come for weekends and vacations.  I’m excited about being able to leave a legacy for others now that we have such a good idea and we realized we aren’t too old to make it happen, because we have Jesus to help us,” declared Vera.

 You’re right, Honey.”  Oscar reached over and held her hand.  “We spent too many years thinking we had no ideas and were too old to make the ranch into something more useful in God’s Kingdom.  Now we know better.  It was good to be able to talk to the pastor of Grace ‘n’ Faith Church #1 in Pine City on Thursday evening last week.  His recommendations for how to implement our idea will be extremely helpful.”

 Yes, and I'm glad we were able to convince my brother and sister-in-law to consider doing the same thing with their truck farm. They still call it a truck farm, but it has really grown into a big business and it needs many families working there instead of just one, like when my parents started it, and my brother and I helped them.  Now since my brother is older than we are, I hope they don’t wait too long to get started,” she stated.

 Absolutely, because there also needs to be a place for foster boys since we’ve decided to have only girls here,” he agreed.  “Plus he was correct in all the differences he mentioned there would need to be in his farm and this ranch.  I’m sure we’ll both be able to do things in the best way for each place.”

 Yes!  Just imagine this beautiful ranch and all the cabins filled with families from our church with four foster girls each in a Caring Foster Home.  We can add more bedrooms and bathrooms to the smaller cabins so they’ll have enough room.  Here at this ranch they can be taught about Jesus, and then rehabilitated and restored to joyful, useful lives by Jesus as their Savior instead of continuing in the abusive situations in which they lived,” she visualized.

 I certainly can imagine it, the way you described it.  Plus, we can have four foster girls of our own, since we’ll get to continue living in the lower level of the big house after we have it remodeled to include another Caring Foster Home upstairs.  I really like the name you suggested the other day, Mercy Valley Ranch.  It truly fits with our idea, and besides, this is one of the valleys with the headwaters for the Mercy River, even though here they’re just called Mercy Streams.  When they all join together and travel farther down the valley, they add a lot of water to the Mercy River.”

 Right, is there a song about Mercy Streams?” asked Vera.

 Oscar replied, Somewhere in the song, ‘Come Thou Fount’ are the words ‘streams of mercy’.  I’m going to look in the big concordance and see if there are any Bible verses about it either way. …  Well, I found lots of verses about mercy and lots about streams, but not together.  Oh well, it doesn't really matter.”

 You’re right.  I just like the sound of it,” Vera declared.

 

 When she got home on Monday from her small group meeting in Pine City, Esther informed Ruth, “I was much more able to pay attention and focus on the songs and the teaching time.  I even thanked God during praise time that I had found out about two friends becoming believers.  Later I prayed aloud, during conversational prayer time asking God to help me in witnessing to my co-workers.  I was especially grateful for the handout that had all the names and phone numbers of the people in the group.”

 “I’m glad to hear that.  I know you like to have those facts with your notebook,” Ruth said.

 Right, and maybe later I’ll learn where they work and how long they’ve lived in Pine City, if I ever need that information.  I already know most of the people from church anyway.  Oh, I forgot to tell you last week, my best friend of many years, Sunny Sanchez, is also in this group,” added Esther.

 Well, that’s nice for you.  What else happened?” asked Ruth.

 She replied, During refreshment and fellowship time, I again visited with others in the group so I could let the men come talk to me if they wanted to.  I didn’t want to have people start talking about us.  That will probably happen soon enough.  I was surprised when neither of them came to talk to me.  Perhaps they didn’t want ‘talk’ to start either.  So I decided that was a good thing and enjoyed the rest of the evening.”

 It sounds like you handled the evening well,” Ruth observed.

 Just then her cell phone rang and Esther was startled.  Then she laughed and said, “I guess I had better get used to that,” as she picked it up, turned the speaker on and said, “Hello, this is Esther speaking.”

 Hello, Esther, this is Felix.  We wanted to call and let you know that we were not ignoring you at the meeting.  We just didn’t want to get people talking about us, if you know what I mean.”

 Yes, I know what you mean and I’m thankful for your thoughtfulness.  It was a good meeting.  The teaching time was especially good for this time of the year.  I was glad to be reminded to not just make a bunch of New Years’ resolutions and then forget about them.  It’ll be much more useful to follow the advice in the teaching time to pray and ask God what things he wants me to do or change,” Esther responded.

 Hi, Esther, this is Nathan and this is like a conference call.  I agree with what you just mentioned.  I really like the way these small groups are organized.  The music is always great, and I like to hear the praises, teaching, and prayer time.  Ruth, are you in on this conference call?  It’s too bad you aren’t in this small group.”

 Ruth answered, “Yes, I’m here.  My small group on Wednesday will be very much like the one you all attended.  I just get a preview tonight by listening to you.”

 By now, they had heard both voices enough to tell who was who, so they recognized that Felix was speaking next.  “We’d like to invite you both to go with us on a fun activity next Saturday afternoon. We found out there’s an ice skating rink in this fine city and wonder if you’d like to go with us.”

 That does sound like fun,” replied Esther.

 And Ruth responded, “Yes, it does.  What time should we be ready?”

 Nathan answered, “Would 2 PM be a good time for us to pick you up?”  They both answered that it would, so he continued, “They rent skates there, or if you have your own, you can bring them.  There’s a nice area inside with places to sit, rest, and visit when we get tired.”

 All right, we’ll be ready at 2 PM on Saturday,” said Esther, and then she told them the address and about the intercom.

 Good, we’ll be looking forward to it,” Felix responded and they all said goodbye.

 Ruth stated, “Well that explained nicely why they didn’t go over and speak to you at the small group.  It sounds like they are really trying to do their best.”

 How am I ever going to keep track of the good and bad qualities of each of them and figure out how to choose one of them for my husband.  Should I write down everything I can remember in a notebook after every date or time I talk with them?  It seems like an insurmountable, impossible assignment,” Esther worried.

 Ruth replied, “Relax.  Pray and trust Jesus to lead you by his Spirit who lives in you.  Keeping a journal might help, especially here at the beginning of the relationships.  Looking back at your entries from time to time could bring some things into focus.  Mostly just be your own sweet, loving, gracious self and that’ll help them get to know you better also.”

 “You’re right again.  Thank you for your good counsel.  If the three of us younger people are trying too hard to make a good impression it’ll be stressful and phony,” Esther admitted.  “I’ll look forward to having fun on Saturday instead.  It’s been a long time since either of us have been ice skating.”

 Yes it has.  We can hope our ankles won’t tire out too soon.  Sometimes I feel like I’m getting old,” Ruth admitted.

 You don’t seem old in my opinion.  But it makes me think about another issue about me.  Neither of the men knows about the cancer I had about five years ago.  The operation I had was able to remove all of the cancer and it hasn’t returned, but I’ll never be able to have a baby.  I guess I need to share that information with them on our next date so they can change their plans if they don’t want a woman who isn’t all there.  It seems like an awkward topic to bring up to two men,” said Esther.

 Ruth agreed, “It is hard, but you could say it like you did just now except you can leave out the part about not being all there.  You are still very much HERE, and I’m tremendously thankful to have my little sister here.”

 Esther responded, “Thank you, Ruth.  I’m thankful to still be here also and I’m very grateful for a wonderful big sister.”

 

 After turning the phone off, Felix looked at Nathan and they both smiled.  “It appears that we’ve already won enough of their confidence that they will let us pick them up.”

 Nathan agreed.  Yes, Ruth asked what time to be ready, and Esther even gave us their address and told us how to use the intercom to let them know when we arrive.  Thank you Father, for the progress we’re making.  Help us to continue to do the right things that’ll win more of their confidence.”

 Yes!  Please help us make our times together be enjoyable and give Esther all the information she’ll need in order to make the choice that will be best for her and be your will,” prayed Felix.

 Then Nathan mentioned, “I was just remembering our conversation with Pastor Don in December.  After we told him how important this project is to us, he asked a lot of questions about our beliefs and emphasized for us to NOT tarnish Ruth or Esther's reputation because those women are very virtuous ladies.”

 And you replied, ‘Absolutely, Sir!’ and I nodded emphatically.” remembered Felix, “After just one date with them I can see how correct he is.  I’m thankful he gave us the idea to approach our times together as a double date and keep out of the limelight.”

 Nathan continued, “Absolutely, and it was a good idea to tell the facilitators of our small group, Jeff and Karen Spencer, even before the first meeting about our plans so they could pray with us and know we are honorable, respectable men trying to do God’s will in this situation.”

 Yes it was an excellent idea.  They’re nice people,” Felix replied.  “They didn’t laugh or put us down in any way, and we had a nice time praying together with them before we left their house.”

 Nathan responded, Indeed, our prayers are being answered.”

 

 Ruth went to her own small group meeting on Wednesday evening feeling a little relieved that this week was more relaxed than last week had been when they were both stressed out about the upcoming date.  Going ice skating would probably be more fun than so much eating and talking had been.

 Her meeting was very good.  They sang another song about the new year called “Great God, We Sing That Mighty Hand.”  Ruth hadn’t heard it before and the words didn’t make much sense to her as they sang it all the way through.  So she decided to look it up again in her hymnal when she got home.  The teaching time was just as good as Esther had said it had been on Monday.

 

 Friday evening at the ranch Oscar mentioned, “This valley is even pretty in the winter.  We haven't had as much snow this winter except on the mountains.  They are extra spectacular with the new white snow on them.  I enjoy seeing the different kinds of clouds in the sky above them also.”

 “So do I,” Vera agreed.  “This house and all the visitor cabins were built with good views of the mountains and the valley.  When I need a rest, I enjoy sitting and just savoring our outstanding view.  I’m truly glad these houses were built so each dining room has a picture window looking at the mountains,”

 Oscar continued, “Yes, and look, the horses are running in the pasture.  My parents planned this ranch so well so that the horses never have to be cooped up in a corral, but are always free to walk, run, or graze in one pasture or another.  They have plenty of grass to eat most of the year.  And when the grass is grazed down, we have plenty of hay we’ve harvested from whichever pastures the horses aren’t in during the spring, summer, and fall, since we rotate them from one pasture to another.  All we have to do is scatter the hay around in different places in whatever field they’re in, so their manure is also scattered and helps to fertilize the ground for the next season.  Of course we still have to run the drag in the early spring to break it up and spread it around more.  Plus we have to test the soil, off and on and add some other fertilizers as needed.

 Vera added, “Yes, and the way the stream goes into and out of Wild Mint Lake keeps the sediments moving up from the bottom and they get spread out on the pastures to help fertilize the hay when we irrigate.  It also helps keep the lake clean with the water flowing in and out of it.  I’m looking forward to spring already.  We have so many wildflowers.  When I have more time after our idea and plans are in place, I’d like to get a wildflower book and learn the names of all the wildflowers I can find.”

 Oscar responded, “What a good idea that is!  I’ll bet some of the girls would enjoy looking and learning with you.  It would be a good way for them to learn about the Creator and his creation.  Let’s order a wildflower book so it can arrive soon.  That way we won’t forget.  It’s also fun to watch the animals we have around here.  Since we have no dogs to scare them off, we have a lot of wildlife.  Just today, I saw several deer grazing in the pasture.  Later a coyote ran across the road up by the outside riding ring just before I came in for supper.”  

 Vera replied, “How terrific!  I need to get outside more in the winter.  Do you remember last spring when we got to see three red fox cubs playing outside their den near Lavender Falls?  They were so cute!  We had our binoculars with us and could see them so clearly.  One of them was sitting watching something in the grass while one of the ferns blowing in the breeze tickled the top of his head.  Pretty soon he pounced on whatever he was watching, but it got away.  I’m glad we put up our sign and the rope across the trail to keep people from getting too close until they were able to leave the den with their parents.”

 Yes, and we’ll do it again this coming spring and every year, so the fox pair will know they have a safe place to raise their cubs.  I’ll look forward to hiking with our girls, taking binoculars to share so they can see how cute the fox cubs are.  And later we can show them the beautiful falls.  I like the way the water jumps over the first ledge into a little pool and then cascades over rocks for a little way before leaping into the bottom pool.  The lavender colored rocks add so much to the beauty of the area.  I like the way the water makes them shine and be a darker lavender.  The dry rocks are just as pretty in their own way.  Our creator did an amazing job on all his creation,” stated Oscar.

 

 In Pine City Esther was nervous again just before the gentlemen came to pick them up at 2 PM, Saturday, but she hid it well.  Soon they were at the ice skating rink, putting on their skates, as they talked.  

 Felix admitted, “It’s been years since I’ve done any ice skating, so I don’t know how well I’ll do.  I hope I don’t knock down any other skaters, especially you three.”

 Ruth laughed.  “Maybe we four should stay far away from each other and all the other skaters until we get our skills back.  It’s been a long time for us also and I’m hoping I’ll remember how.”

 The others chuckled and agreed as they all tentatively started out on the ice.  Nobody fell down, but they all looked almost like first time skaters and they wondered why they had thought this would be fun.  Even so, the balance and skill did return to them after a little while, and they started having fun.

 Soon they were ready to have a time of rest in the inside sitting area.  Nathan remarked, “It was fun out there after I remembered how to do it again, but I do seem to get tired more easily than when we were in high school.”

 Esther said, “I agree with you, and it brings to my mind a delicate topic both of you gentlemen need to know about me, because it might be a reason you’d desire to change your plan.”  She proceeded to tell them what she had said to Ruth Monday evening, leaving out the part about not being all there.

 Felix almost blurted out a tease of some kind, but stopped himself just in time and said instead, “Thank you for telling us.  It won’t be a problem for me.”

 Nathan responded, “I thank you also, and I’m glad to hear that you’re well now.  It won’t be a problem for me either.”

 Esther blushed and looked down for a moment before replying, “Thank you both for your gracious acceptance.”

 Ruth rescued them all by suggesting, “If we’ve rested enough, shall we go outside and skate some more?”

 They skated until they got tired again and decided to take off their skates and watch the others for a time.  When they got chilly from being outside they went inside to sit in a quiet corner and visit some more.

 Later Felix asked, Would anyone care for a hot drink from the refreshment stand over there?”

 Esther answered for Ruth and herself.  “Yes.  Ruth and I both like hot apple cider or juice, if they have any.  If not, whatever you choose will be fine, as long as it has no alcohol in it.”

 As Felix was going, Nathan remarked, “We understand and agree, because we’re teetotalers ourselves.”

 I’m glad to hear that, because it was always a worry on any of the first or second dates with someone.  Not that I’ve dated so many people, and I usually only went with someone in my small group,” Esther explained.

 Felix returned with steaming cinnamon apple juice and handed the cups around. He was greeted with murmurs of thank you and enjoyment.

 Then Nathan said, “Here’s something you should know about us so you won’t have to worry.  Felix and I have both prayed a lot about our project and we feel we are in the Lord’s will about it.  We wanted to be completely sure of that before we ever told you about it.  We even asked him to take away our love and our desire to try to find you if it wasn’t his will for us to try this plan.  Instead our love and longing increased.

  Felix explained, “We went to see the pastor of Grace ‘n’ Faith church #4, Don Ross, in December about our project so we could get any advice he might have for us.  We gave him all the details like we did for you last Friday.”

 Nathan continued, “He told us this did sound like a very unusual plan, and that the most important thing we should do is pray to ask God if this could be his will for you and us.”

 Felix said, “We assured him that we had prayed before we started trying to find you.  God had pointed us to a few verses that helped to show us his will in this situation.  For example, Proverbs 18:22, Whoever finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of the LORD, and Proverbs 12:4, a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband.”

 Nathan continued, “So we prayed for God to give one of us the desire of our heart.  Psalm 145:19a says, God will fulfill the desire of those who fear him.”  

 Next Felix described the way Isaac’s bride was chosen.  “It’s a fascinating story in Genesis chapter 24, ending with this part of verse 67.  Isaac brought Rebekah into his mothers Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her… Whichever man you choose, will love you as much as Isaac loved Rebekah.  In fact he will love you as Christ loved the church, like it says in Ephesians 5:25.”

 Nathan said, “I asked God to show me the way to find out where you live, and the memory of Oscar and Vera Yardley was my next thought.  I wondered why it had never occurred to me beforehand.  I definitely thanked God for that thought.

 Felix went on, “We had both talked and prayed with our pastor at home, separately and together.  He told us that if our motives and intentions were pure and honorable then it should be all right to go ahead with our plan if we could find you.

 Then Nathan stated, “So, here we are, and here you are!  We are all beginning a big adventure. …”

 Esther was visibly impressed by what they had shared, and even Ruth had moist eyes.  

 Thank you so much for sharing that with us,” Esther responded.  “Your humility and sincerity are easy to see, and I definitely don’t have to worry about your desires to do God’s will.  So, I’m looking forward to this adventure.  I want both of you to know that I pray daily for my future husband and for God’s guidance in my life so I’ll choose the one HE wants for me.”

 

 During the Sunday church service, Maria sat with her former college roommate, Julie Blake, who was also her best friend.  Before the service started, Maria asked, “Would you and your husband, Ted, still like to meet at the mall where we can walk for exercise and visit for about 45 minutes?”

 Yes, it’s the best place for a walk during this cold weather and I need a stretch after sitting in church.  I’m glad Pine City has an inside shopping mall and I always look forward to hearing about your week and telling you about mine,” Julie responded.

 Then the three of them looked up at the big display board at the front of the sanctuary to see what songs were being sung today and the scripture verses that went with them.  Today they’d be singing “Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down,” Psalm 95:6; “What a Wonderful Savior,” John 4:42; “Be Thou My Vision,” Philippians 3:7; and “Be Strong and Take Courage,” 1 Chronicles 28:20.  Julie noticed that the second song was a good one to sing if there were unbelievers in the service.  She thought somebody might have brought visitors and have given the pastor a note to alert him that he needed to include a teaching about the gospel.  He had told Ted and her about this idea when they first moved to Pine City.

 Pastor Don Ross led the singing with the accompaniment of music prepared especially for all the Grace ‘n’ Faith Churches by volunteer musicians and singers from the churches who meet weekly on Thursday evenings after practicing on their own during the week.  They practice together and the music is recorded and transferred to SD cards that the pastors insert in the church's stereo system or the small group facilitators insert into small stereo boom boxes they bring to the meetings.  It always sounds beautiful with all the people singing together.

 Julie especially enjoys singing beside her husband because she gets to hear his very low, mellow voice in the music and next to her as well, since he’s one of the volunteers who sings bass.  He enjoys it for different reasons.  He is truly thankful that he gets to serve the Lord and the church this way, and he has always enjoyed singing and music.

 After they sang the last song, Pastor Don began the teaching time.  “Today we’ll continue on the same theme as last week since this is the beginning of a new year.  Last week we talked about how important it is to use our time wisely, and to trust in God’s grace.  We were reminded that God is in control and he plans and shapes believers’ lives.

 Our first song today was totally based on Psalm 95:6, 7a.  Come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the LORD our God our maker.  For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.  Praising God is a wonderful way to begin every day of every year.  You can do this by choosing a Psalm out of the Bible or a hymn or spiritual song out of the hymnal.  Read and think about the words.  You can also buy SD cards at the church office and have the music to sing along with, in your homes.  The SD cards are very inexpensive.

 Our second song today reminded us of our wonderful Savior. Part of John 4:42 states, Jesus really is the savior of the world.  In this case the world means the people living on earth.  Just last month at Christmas time, we celebrated the coming of Jesus to earth as a baby who grew up to teach about the Kingdom of God, heal many people, and show them how much he loved them.  Remember the angel told Joseph to name the baby, Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins, as it says in Matthew 1:21.

 “You might ask why people need to be saved from their sins, which is a very good question.  One very good answer is that people’s sins separate them from a holy God who never sins.  Sins keep people from being able to go to heaven when they die.  This holy God created the first people, Adam and Eve, so he could have fellowship with them, but they listened to the devil’s lie and sinned.  This broke their fellowship with God and brought on them and the whole human race the penalty of eternal separation from God after they die.  But because God loved them so much, he made a way for them to be forgiven through the blood shed by an animal he killed to make clothing for them.  All through the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed to be a picture of the final perfect sacrifice.  Listen to Hebrews 7: 27a.  Special priests were to offer up sacrifice, first for (their) own sins, and then for the sins of the people.

 “What was the final perfect sacrifice?  It was Jesus, the perfect Son of God who never sinned even once.  He willingly came to this earth leaving his glorious position in heaven so he could pay the price for all the sins of all the people from the beginning to the end of time.  Listen as I continue reading in Hebrews 9:12.  Not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood …  (Jesus) obtained eternal redemption for us.

 “How did he do this?  He willingly let them crucify him on a cross.  Just before he died, he asked God to forgive them.  After he died, they buried him, but on the third day, he rose from the grave and lives forever, proving that God accepted his perfect sacrifice, and that animal sacrifices were no longer needed.

 “What does all this mean for people?  It means that people can be saved.  How?  First you need to admit that you have sinned, then confess your sins to God and ask him to forgive you.  Plus you need to believe in Jesus.  Find Acts 16: 30,31 and follow along with me.  (A man) asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  (Paul) answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.’  Believe means to trust in Jesus and rely on what he accomplished and to accept him as your Savior.  If you’d like to do that today, I’ll help you pray right now.

 “Everybody, please bow your heads.  If you’d like to have Jesus be your Savior silently repeat after me.  God, my creator, I admit that I am a sinner. …  I confess these sins to you. …  Name silently, the ones you think of right now. …  Please forgive me. …  Thank you that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. …  He paid for my sins by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. …  I believe in you, Jesus, and ask you to be my Savior. … Thank you, Jesus.

 “My friends, if you prayed that prayer with me, you are now new believers and members of God’s family.  You’ll spend the rest of this earthly life in fellowship with him and his family, and continue it in heaven after you die.  When this service is over, please tell someone here about it.  Then please come up here and tell me, so I can rejoice with you and give you a booklet that explains what you did and what steps to take next.”

 Julie decided to watch and see who might go up to the pastor after the service, so she and Ted could go welcome them into God’s family and rejoice with them.  She wanted them to feel the same friendliness and acceptance this church had shown to them when they had moved from another state to Pine City in March of the year before.  

 Pastor Don continued the teaching time by saying, “Our third song today should be very helpful to people in our congregation who are contemplating new goals or directions for their lives.  It would be helpful to pray verse three as a way to remind you how important it is to remember to keep the Lord in first place as you continue with your goals after you have received guidance from him about whether these goals are his will for you.”

 As she was taking notes on the sermon, Esther quickly wrote the song title, “Be Thou My Vision” and put verse three next to it.  Then she reminded herself to continue to pray for guidance.  She was so pleased with what Nathan and Felix had told her on their skating date.  She smiled and relaxed as she continued to listen to the teaching time and take notes.

 If she had happened to glance in their direction, she would have seen them nudge each other and smile, obviously glad they had been able to share their thoughts with her before this sermon.

 Next, Pastor Don said, “Please find 1 Chronicles 28:20 and read it aloud with me.  David said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and of good courage, and do it.  Fear not nor be dismayed, for the LORD my God will be with you.  He will not fail you nor forsake you.  You will finish all the work for the service of the house of the LORD.’  Then Solomon went ahead with the building of the temple, knowing it was God’s will and that God would help him.  It was a gigantic project, but with the help of the LORD he did it.  The words to our last song should be a great encouragement to any of you who are planning something that looks to you like an enormous undertaking.”

 Vera wrote that reference and the song title in her notebook and smiled, knowing that what her pastor had said was very true.

 The pastor closed the service and a young couple went to talk to him and receive the little booklet he had offered. He was elated and told them how happy he was for them. The booklet he gave them had a little card inside.  It said, "Please fill me out and bring me back to church and give me to the pastor next week if you would like a visit from the pastor or would like to join a group especially for new believers."  It had a place for their names, address, and phone number.  New believer groups would be started soon to teach these people how to live the Christian life, and most of them would continue as regular small groups.

 When the couple had finished talking to Pastor Don, Ted and Julie went to greet them, and helped them to feel welcome.

 As people got up and started to move around after the church service, Vera said goodbye to Nathan and Felix and went to talk to Betty and Walt Evans.  “I’d like to invite you to dinner this evening.  We’d like to have time to visit, and we have a project we desire to tell you about.  Since you’re a contractor, Walt, we want to give you the ‘right of first refusal.’  If this project isn’t one you’d want to do, we’ll try to find someone else.”

 Walt responded, “Thank you Vera.  Dinner and visiting sound delightful and of course I’m always interested in new projects.”

 Betty asked, “What can I bring, and what time do you want us to be there?  We do know the way to get to your wonderful dude ranch.  I enjoy the ride any time of year.”

 Vera answered, “Come as soon as you can, after 5 PM so we can have plenty of time to visit and eat before we share our new ideas.  Would you please bring a heart healthy dessert and your recipe for it?  We heard that Walt’s doctor recommended that he stay on a healthy diet even though Jesus totally healed Walt from a massive heart attack a few months ago.  It would probably be a good idea for all people to eat in a more healthy manner.”

 I agree.  We both feel much better on this healthier diet.  If you’d like, I can bring a copy of what the dietitian suggested.  It was hard to get used to this kind of cooking at first, but it was good for my brain to have to do different things,” said Betty.

 Yes, please bring that copy and maybe we can discuss it while Walt and Oscar go over the details of our project,” Vera replied.

 Okay, we’ll see you shortly after 5 this evening,” said Walt.

 

 Esther went directly to see Fiona Anderson after church, since she had made arrangements with her earlier in the week.

 “Welcome, Esther, it’s good to have you come for a visit.  Would you like a quick tour of our home, which I think you know was finished and furnished as a wedding gift to us from Walt and Betty Evans?” Fiona asked.

 “Yes, please.  I’d enjoy that a lot.  This is a fabulous present” Esther responded.

 As they walked through the house Fiona explained each room, the furnishings, and reasons they had done certain things.

 I really like this sewing room and all the storage you had built into it,” said Esther.  “I wish we had an extra room in our apartment just for sewing so I could leave projects out instead of having to put everything away each time I do any sewing.”

 Yes, it’s a wonderful help, and as you can see, there’s a door right into the nursery so I can be close to our baby, when he or she arrives, and still be able to sew,” Fiona mentioned.

 Esther inquired, You mean your doctor hasn’t told you?”

 Fiona laughed.  “Matt and I think it’s more fun to wonder and it adds to the anticipation, so we won’t let the doctor tell us.”

 Esther joined in the laughter.  “I understand what you mean.  Your nursery looks like it as almost ready for your first baby.  How many more months do you have?”

 I think about three.  Look, we put a door from the nursery into our bathroom so we can pass through quickly from our bedroom.  “Let’s go through here and you can see the beautiful cherry wood furniture we got for this room,” suggested Fiona.

 This is lovely.  I think cherry is one of my favorite woods.  I really like the bed without head and footboards.  It must be much easier to make the bed without them in the way,” observed Esther.

 Fiona replied, It sure is!  We agreed to not have them in any of the bedrooms, and now I don’t have to skin my knuckles trying to put on the sheets and blankets.”

 As they went back into the open concept kitchen, dining, living, exercise area, Esther exclaimed, “I truly like the way your kitchen is arranged, and the dining and living room areas really match!  Your bookshelves very effectively hide the exercise equipment.”

 Fiona responded, Thank you.  Matt started building this house with me in mind even though we didn’t know how long I’d be gone or if we’d continue dating when I returned after taking care of my Great Aunt Cara.  It was two long years for both of us.  

 We did continue dating, and Matt and I worked together to add and change things in his house plans just before Walt and his two work crews arrived to continue and finish the house.  Since none of the inside walls had been put in place we were able to make a lot of beneficial changes.  The book shelves and sewing room storage places were all custom built and can be moved if and when we’d like.  We were really given a wonderful gift!

 I’m so glad for you,” Esther declared. “This is great!”

 Fiona quickly showed her their office, and then the two other bedrooms that were being used to give two couples preparing to be missionaries a place to live while they studied at the church school of evangelism.

 Now we better talk about the important topic you came here to discuss,” remarked Fiona as she took Esther back into the office so they could sit in the comfortable chairs while they talked.  After you called me, I got busy on the word processor and made a list of all the things I could think of that would be a help to you as you are evaluating those two men so you can choose the one who’d be better for you.  I have never heard of a situation like you explained to me on the phone, but with God leading all of you, it should be an interesting and unusual adventure.”

 Esther responded, “I agree, and I’m so thankful that they told me they’ve prayed about it and have assurance that it is God’s will for them to do this project.”  She took the pages Fiona handed to her and read through them.  “This is a wonderful summary of the book I had read, and some new ideas also that’ll be immensely helpful to me.  It’s great to have it all right here together, because it’ll be much easier to check things off as we go.  Thank you very much, Fiona, for all your extra effort.”

 You’re very welcome.  Now we have enough time to pray together before you have to leave,” added Fiona.  When they finished praying, Esther felt even better about the adventure she was beginning.

 

 Walt and Betty Evans arrived at the Yardley Dude Ranch just a few minutes after 5 PM that same Sunday evening.  Betty stated, “Oscar, Vera, this is the loveliest valley and the view of those mountains all covered with snow is spectacular.  I think I’d be tempted to sit and look out that window all day instead of working!”

 Vera replied, “You’re right!  It is a temptation, but I’ve told myself I can only sit and look if I need a rest or if my work for the day is finished.  Let’s sit here at the table while we visit for a while.  Dinner’s almost ready in the slow cooker.  I’ll put your delicious looking dessert in the refrigerator and be right back.”

 She brought a book with her when she returned, and put it down in front of Betty.  “This is a book about the mountains in that range.  This picture was taken from an area with almost the same view as we have here.  All the mountains with names are labeled in this picture.  But it amazes me how many mountains don’t have names!”

 Oh, this is wonderful.  I always like to know the names of mountains, streams, trees, and other things in God’s amazing creation.  They mean more to me that way,” explained Betty.  “Have you learned the names of the mountains?”

 Vera smiled.  “I admit that I have.  So you can tell that I did sit right here with this book every time I needed a rest, and matched the picture with the mountains so I could memorize all their names.  They also mean more to me when I know their names, or if I want to point out a particular mountain to Oscar who has also memorized them.”

 He added, “It has enhanced our enjoyment of them.”

 Walt commented, “I understand what you mean.  Knowing the names of things the other person is talking about makes for much better communication.  Betty has learned the names of all the tools and processes in my construction business and when I tell her about what I’m doing she comprehends more easily.”

 Betty said, Walt has done the same thing with all the things I use and do in homemaking.  It’s such a good feeling to be understood when we’re talking, and not have to keep explaining the same thing over and over again.  Walt is a very good listener!”

 Oscar said, “Vera and I also work toward listening well.  I’m getting hungry.  Shall we continue visiting while we eat?”

 They enjoyed the tasty meal, delicious dessert and more conversation.  All hands helped with clearing the table, putting away leftovers, and cleaning up the dishes.  Then they went to sit in the living room since it was too dark to see the mountains now.

 Oscar mentioned, I certainly did enjoy our visiting time.  Now Vera and I would like to explain our idea to you and ask you to pray about whether God would want you to be our contractor to help put this plan into motion.”

 He and Vera took turns telling Walt and Betty about their plan to turn the dude ranch into a cluster of Caring Foster Homes for abused girls.  Then they handed them a copy of their ideas to have the smaller cabins remodeled with extra bedrooms and bathrooms added as needed.  A one car garage and storage area would also be added to every cabin, since families would live in them all through the year.  The big house would need to be remodeled to accommodate two Caring Foster Homes, one upstairs and one downstairs, plus an extra garage and storage area for the upstairs home.  The upstairs home would need a kitchen, dining room, and laundry room added to it.

 Oscar explained, “Vera and I would continue living in the downstairs area and would like rooms for us to also have four foster girls in our care.  Perhaps now would be a good time for us to give you a tour of both areas so you can better understand what we’re describing.”  So they all went on the grand tour.

 Walt declared, “It really did help to see both areas.  We can grasp much better what you mean now.  Could Betty and I go into your living room and pray about this project right now?”

 Of course.  Oscar and I will go make all of us some herbal tea and meet you at the dining room table when you’re ready.  Do you like peppermint?”  They nodded, so that was settled.

 Pretty soon they all gathered at the table and enjoyed their first sips of the delightful tea.

 Betty declared, “This tea is really good.  I’ll add it to my list.”

 Walt smiled as he expressed, “Yes, it is good.  Betty and I prayed and we feel that God would like to have my company with both of its crews to do all these remodel projects so you can transform your dude ranch into a ministry of telling the Good News to those girls and helping to restore them to joyful, useful lives.”

 Betty added, “We’re excited for you and we’ll be praying for you.  It is a huge undertaking, but you can handle it with God’s help and guidance and his servants to help you.”

 Walt continued, I’d like to come out here next Saturday and spend as much time as I need to, taking pictures and looking at the cabins so I can start making floor plans.  Then I can give you a bid on how much time and money it might take,” explained Walt.  “Feel free to get other bids also if you want to compare.”

 Vera responded, “Wonderful!  Thank you both for coming out here today and bringing dessert.  Betty, if you have time, come with Walt on Saturday.  Plan to eat lunch with us that day.  We can go over any questions I have about the healthy diet suggestions.  If you’ll also bring your recipes, I can scan the ones I think we’ll like into my computer and get copies of them that way.  We’ll use some of your recipes for lunch.”

 “I like your idea, Vera.  I’d love to come spend some more time with you, and I hope it’ll be a clear day so we can enjoy the mountains together,” Betty replied.

 Walt added, “Thank you for the delicious dinner, the visiting time, and for considering us as a contractor possibility.  We’ll look forward to coming here on Saturday.  Is 9 AM a good time for us to arrive?”  Oscar nodded and goodbyes were said.

 

 In Pine City Tuesday evening after supper cleanup, Esther was again sitting at the table with the printouts Fiona had given her and her journal.  Ruth sat across the table from her, studying her sister’s intense expression.  After a short time, she asked, “Is something bothering you, Esther?  I didn’t want to interrupt you, but I need to know.”

 Oh, hi.  No, I’m fine.  I was just concentrating and writing down some observations in my journal.  Listen to this.  I already know that both of them are believers, they desire to do God’s will, they are committed to this project, they treat us as gentlemen should treat ladies, they care about how I feel, they aren’t being pushy, but will allow me whatever time I need to get to know them well enough to choose wisely, and they’re trying to make our double dates fun even for my dear sister,” she replied.

 Ruth commented, “Therefore you already have several things checked off the list you received from Fiona on Sunday.”

 Yes, and that’s good.  The frustration you saw on my face is because they are both doing everything right so far, and if this keeps on, it’ll be hard for me to choose between them.  I already know your answer to this frustration,” Esther acknowledged.  “So I will be patient and get to know them better.  Eventually God will show me which one is the better husband for me.”

 Ruth nodded and expressed, “I’m proud of you, Esther.  You worked through all of that on your own and you don’t seem frustrated now.  It has only been a couple weeks and two dates, and already you’ve learned a lot about those two men.  What are some other things on your lists?”

 Esther read aloud, How do they win or lose, how do they treat my family, what are his listening skills, does he ask for and value my opinion, does he criticize others or me, does he ignore, put down, disagree or argue, tease or make fun of me or others as a general rule?  How does he treat others and talk about them when they aren’t present.  What are his views about premarital sex?  Watch out if he ever uses what you’ve said against you later.  Find out what movies he likes or what he watches on TV or the internet.  That’s only about half of them.”

 Ruth agreed.  “I was just going to say that it’s a very long list.  We know you can’t expect perfection, but those are essential things to find out before you can make a wise choice.”

 You’re right.  Here’s the rest of the list.  Be sure to discuss all issues that are important to you and to him, or to them in this case.  I notice the list singled it down to one person, but I have to know about both of them.  It’s not safe to assume that church and small groups will continue to be important to them, so we need to discuss that topic along with how much money to give to the Lord’s work and where to give it.  Finances are a point of possible disagreement, so budgets and spending need to be discussed.  What place does God have in their lives and what does God want them to do in the future?  How does it mesh with God’s plan for me?  Are we in unity on all the important issues?” finished Esther.

 Wow!” exclaimed Ruth.  “I’m glad it’s you and not me who is looking for the best man to be a husband.  This will truly be an adventure for you, made even harder because you have to evaluate two men at once.  But I think you can handle the task because, you can do all things with the help of Jesus who gives you the strength, as I paraphrased Philippians 4:13.”

 “Yes, thank you, Jesus, for being my strength and my master who is in control of my life.  I’m glad I can trust you,” she prayed.

 Ruth continued, “I agree and ask you, Jesus, for peace and joy as we continue together in this adventure.”

 Amen!  I think I’ll go through the list and highlight the items that are the most important to me or would be the hardest for me to live with if they are negative things.  I also think it would be a good idea if the men and I would write what our thoughts are on the most important issues and let each other read them.  A book I read said we need to find out if we aren’t going to be compatible before we go very much further in the dating process.  The men made it sound easy, but there’s nothing easy about a lifelong decision!” Esther emphasized.

 Those are good ideas,” Ruth agreed.  Just then the phone rang, and Ruth looked at the caller ID.  “It’s for you, dear sister.”

 Hello, Nathan and Felix.  This is Esther speaking.”

 Felix said, “Hi, Esther, is Ruth there listening also?”

 “Yes, I’m right here,” she replied, smiling at Esther who almost laughed out loud about how funny it was to be talking with several people on the same call.

 Nathan stated, “I’m here also, so we’re all accounted for.  We have an idea for another fun date this coming Saturday.  We heard about a butterfly pavilion that’s open even in the winter, in a city not very far from here.”

 Felix continued, “It would be a nice warm place to spend the morning enjoying some of God’s amazing creation in the middle of winter.  Afterward, we could go to a restaurant we know of that serves many choices of food, buffet style.  It would take most of the day, if we leave here right after breakfast, let’s say, 8:30.  We would get you back home in time for you to fix your own supper.”

 Esther replied, “It sounds like a wonderful day to me and I can see Ruth smiling, so she thinks so too.  That butterfly pavilion is a place I’ve been desiring to go to for a long time.  You guys come up with good ideas.  We’ll be looking forward to it and be ready to go with you at 8:30 this coming Saturday morning.”

 Goodbyes all around, and the connection closed.  Then Esther and Ruth laughed about the strange phone conversation until the tears ran down their cheeks.  It helped to relieve the stress of their earlier discussion.

 Then Esther said, I plan to take three copies of the issues so we can add or subtract issues at the restaurant.  I’ll suggest that we write at home what I’ll call our individual thesis or dissertation on important issues and bring them to our next date.  Then I’ll suggest that we go to the shopping mall since there are places to sit in conversation groupings.  If I make two copies of mine, and they make one apiece, we can read them at the same time and then discuss them.”

 What am I going to read?” asked Ruth, ready to laugh again.

 You can bring an inspirational romance novel I could loan to you.”  Ruth cracked up again and Esther joined in.

 Ruth observed, “This is kind of fun, you’ll have to admit.”

 Yes it is!  This is the biggest adventure I’ve ever been on in my life, so I’m determined to enjoy it all I can,” agreed Esther.

 

 After Wednesday supper cleanup, Pastor Don and Anita Ross were conversing in the living room while they watched their two children playing quietly.  Timmy’s five, and Mary’s four.

 I liked the way you shortened the teaching time to include a salvation message.  You still made your other points very well, and I was thrilled to see a young couple go up for a booklet at the end of the service,” Anita commented.

 “So was I!  We’ll need to see how many new believers we have and think about starting a small group for them to learn how to live their new lives.  As I was talking, it was fun to watch certain people in the congregation nod in agreement or start writing quickly in their notebooks so they could remember something I said.  The two new young men looked especially pleased about something I had said.  I enjoy being a pastor,” Don finished.

 Timmy came up right then to show his parents something he had made out of interlocking blocks.  “Look, I even put a hinge in here so the door could open and close.”

 “Timmy makes good things,” said Mary.

 So do you, Mary.  Show what you made,” he instructed.

 Anita praised them.  “Both of them are very good.  We enjoy seeing the things you can build with the sets we bought for you.”

 Yes, and I can see that your idea to combine the two sets was a good idea, Mary, because you can build bigger and different things than you could have with just separate sets,” added Don.

 Thank you, Daddy.  We have fun sharing,” stated Mary.

 “Do you think we’ll get to play with the twins this Saturday?  I miss having them come here on Saturday mornings,” said Timmy.

 I do too.  Hope and Joy are fun to play with,” Mary added.

 Now that we’re in kindergarten, they don’t come here on Tuesdays and Thursdays anymore,” Timmy noted.

 Don answered, “We understand.  Things really changed a lot when you and the twins started going to school.  We’ll give their parents a call and see what their plans are.  Maybe we can work out something.”

 Both children thanked him and went back to play again.

 We were right about needing to make a time for them to play with the twins,” Anita remarked.  “Mary has mentioned them several times during the last couple of weeks.  Even Timmy misses them.  Would you like me to go call Sherry right now while you rest and watch the children?”

 That’s a good idea.  Then the children won’t be able to hear the conversation in case they can’t come this weekend,” said Don.

 In a few minutes she was back with a smile.  “They’ll all look forward to coming over here this coming Saturday morning at the usual 9 AM time like they did for last year’s small group.”

 When they informed the children, they were delighted!  Timmy said, “Thank you, Mama, for calling them.”  She nodded, smiled and gave both of them hugs.

 Sherry Foster put the phone back in its holder and she and Roy went back into the living room where Joy and Hope were putting a puzzle together.

 Guess what, girls,” said Roy.

 Hope asked, “What, Daddy?” Then she and Joy ran over to him with anticipation.

 You have to guess,” Roy instructed.

 We’re going out somewhere to have ice cream cones for dessert tonight,” guessed Hope.

 No, it’s even better than that,” Sherry declared.

 I think I know,” stated Joy, jumping up and down.  “We get to go play with Timmy and Mary soon.”

 Correct.  Mrs. Ross just called and invited us over there this coming Saturday morning at 9 AM.  Since this is Wednesday it’s just two more school days, and the next day will be Saturday.  You children can play while we grownups visit,” agreed Roy.

 Hurrah!  You’re right, this is so much better than ice cream!” exclaimed Hope.  “I’ve missed getting to play with Timmy and Mary now that we’re going to kindergarten.”  

 For sure!  I miss going to their day care two times a week.  We had fun playing with all the rest of the children too,” Joy added.

 The identical five-year-old twin girls joined hands, leaned back, and swung each other around in a circle.  Then they gave each parent a hug and thanks for the nice surprise before going to work on the puzzle again.

 Sherry commented, “Anita thought Mary would be the one missing the other three, but they all miss each other.”

 Roy agreed, “Yes, it has been a big change for all four of the children.  I’m glad Joy and Hope got to spend that time with the day care children.  Your idea for the last eight months of last year was great.  By sewing or doing housework for Anita two mornings a week, the twins could be there in her day care and learn how to get along with a larger group of children before going to the church school’s kindergarten.”

 Thank you, Roy.  Your extra help here at home those days was much appreciated also.  The girls were able to learn a lot of Bible stories and songs by being there those two mornings each week.  They’ve told me about a few of the ones that are the same as they’ve heard at school the last couple weeks.  I’m sure it has helped them with the transition.  Being able to watch them as I volunteer in each of their classrooms twice a week has been immensely helpful to me.  I can see how some of the things they learned at Anita’s day care did help them when they started kindergarten. Jesus has really blessed us, especially with his mercy and salvation.  Thank you, Jesus!” Sherry finished.

 

 On Friday evening Ruth and Esther arrived early to have supper with their parents and Jason, but he wasn’t there yet, so Anna had time to ask, “How’s it going, Esther?”

 It’s going well because I have Ruth to keep me headed in the right direction when I start worrying and getting frustrated.”  She told about going to see Fiona, studying the lists, and wondering how she was ever going to keep everything straight.  “But I am looking forward to our date tomorrow.”

 “So am I,” inserted Ruth.  “We’re going to the Butterfly Pavilion. It’s a place Esther and I both have been wanting to see.  Then we’ll eat at a buffet restaurant.  I’m afraid I’ll gain weight on these dates, though.  I better start getting more exercise.”

 Esther agreed, then asked, I’d like to know what you think about this idea.”  Then she told them what she planned to do at the restaurant after they finished eating.  “Then I’ll suggest that our next date be at the inside shopping mall where we can sit, read, and discuss those important issues.  There might be no need to continue these dates if they or I feel we wouldn’t be compatible.”

 William responded, “It’s a good idea, Esther, and if you mention that last statement in a gentle way they’ll probably agree.”

 “How should I say it?” she asked.  There was silence while the three others thought about her question.

 Finally Anna suggested, “What if you thank them graciously for the fun dates and good food so far?  Then say you’re worried about the amount of money they’re having to spend on double dates.  Say you’ve read a book that suggests discussing important issues early on in the dating process, so the couples can find out if they’d be compatible.  Then tell them your idea and ask what they think.  How does that sound, William?” she asked.

 William smiled at his beloved wife and said,  “It sounds really gentle and caring just like you always are, my dear.  I’m a very privileged man to have such a wonderful wife!”

 Esther exclaimed, “This is the kind of marriage I desire to have! One just like my parents have.”

 This kind of marriage doesn't just happen,” William explained to her. “It takes both people agreeing to work at it.  When we were first married, we both had a lot of adjusting to do.  But we agreed to listen to, and discuss with each other until we reached an agreeable solution for both people.”

 Anna nodded her head and added, “It was even better after we became believers because we could pray and get help from our wonderful Savior and the Holy Spirit, who lives inside us.

 Thank you both for explaining.  Back to my question, I like your idea, Mom.  I’ll write it and the other explanation down right now so I’ll remember them,” Esther responded.

 Jason arrived as soon as Esther finished writing and the four of them informed him about the happenings in his sisters’ lives.

 Wow!  I’m glad my life isn’t as exciting as yours is.  But I hope you will find the best man to be your husband since you still want to get married, Esther.  After my fiasco last spring and summer, I think I’m probably better off staying single so I don’t end up frustrating a woman and making her miserable.  I learned a lot through that situation and I’m sorry I upset Maria in the process.”

 Ruth responded, “Don t worry about Maria.  She’s doing fine, and has gone back to her original decision to remain single.  I’m glad she’s working in my office building; she has become a good friend.”

 Its good to hear that.  She is so special.  I’m also very thankful that God used her to help get my attention and turn me away from my wrong thinking about good works being the way to go to heaven when I die.  Now I know Jesus is the only way!” Jason exclaimed.

 We’re grateful too!” Anna exclaimed.  They had a nice time of praising and thanking God again.  Then she said, “I’m getting hungry.  Girls, shall we go put dinner on the table?”

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Luke 14:28, Which of you, intending to build a tower does not first sit down and count the cost,

to see if he has sufficient to finish it?

 

 Early Saturday morning after a quick breakfast, Walt and Betty Evans were scurrying around to get all the things together they’d need to take with them to the Yardley Dude Ranch.  Betty gathered all her recipes and put them in her purse.  Then she got his warm coat and boots, and the camera with extra batteries ready for Walt to use there, while he went into his office and put everything he thought he might need into a briefcase.

 He remarked, “If I had done all this last night, we wouldn’t have to hurry so much right now.”

 I know, but don’t be hard on yourself.  We were pretty busy last night doing other things.  We’ll make it.  It only takes about 20 minutes to drive up to the ranch from here,” Betty responded.

 Later as they were on the way, Walt mentioned, “When I first heard their idea on Sunday evening, I wondered why anybody would choose to change a good paying dude ranch into a home for abused girls.  But as I listened to their explanation it kind of reminded me of what we wanted to do for the child we were never able to have.  It’s a way for them to do something useful for others and leave a legacy.”

 Betty replied, “Yes, and I remember how good it felt to be able to finish and furnish Matt’s house as a wedding present, since he is like a son to us.  He and Fiona were so grateful and like it so much.  Just seeing their enjoyment, made it really worthwhile for us.  It’s like a gift that keeps on giving to them and to us as well.  It says somewhere, it is more blessed to give than to receive.  I’ll look it up in the concordance when I get home.”  (She did that, and found it in Acts 20:35)

 They arrived at the dude ranch right on time and were welcomed in as if they were paying guests.

 Come right into the dining room first so we can have a nice hot cup of cherry tea with honey and let you see the morning light on those beautiful mountains,” invited Vera.

 Oh wow!  It’s so spectacular, I’m going to take a picture of it,” Betty stated as she went to get the camera and her coat.

 Come right over here on this side and I’ll open the window so you won’t even have to go outside,” suggested Oscar.  “We removed the screen from this side so we could see better.  Vera’s our photographer and uses this window pretty often.”

 Thank you.  This will be a wonderful memory of our day here.”  Betty quickly took several pictures including some telephoto shots.

 Walt observed, “I can understand why you’d need very good self discipline to leave this view and go get your work done instead of sitting here to enjoy it.”

 Oscar replied, “This view is a wonderful blessing and it’s a very nice reward to be able to sit here and savor it when the work is finished or if we need a rest in the middle of a hard job.”

 I’m sure it is!” exclaimed Walt.  “This tea is delicious and the view is marvelous.” Later he said,Now, if you’ll point me to one of the small cabins I’ll go look at it and make some measurements, draw a floor plan of the way it is right now, and write some notes.”

 Oscar offered, “If you like, I’ll come with you to hold the tape measure and answer any questions you might have.”

 Thank you for your good idea.  It’ll be a great help,” Walt responded as he went to get his coat and the camera.  “I notice that there’s no snow out there so I won’t need my boots.  There was snow at our house this morning.”

 Oscar replied, “We have an interesting phenomenon here in Mercy Valley.  It has its own microclimate, and it usually doesn’t get as much rain or sow as elsewhere.””

 It’s a good thing you can irrigate then!” exclaimed Walt.

 The men left, so Vera and Betty got busy with questions and recipes.  Vera only had a few questions about the healthy diet, which Betty answered easily.  There were quite a few recipes to read through, and she had some questions about them.  As she read, she made two piles of the cards.  The biggest pile was the one with recipes Vera thought they’d like.

 Now let’s go scan these so I can make copies of them.  After that, we can choose the ones we’ll use to make lunch,” said Vera as she led the way into the office.

 When they were finished, they went back to the dining room table and Vera inquired, “Which of these are Walt’s favorites?”

 After looking through them Betty answered, “These three make one of his favorite meals.  Do you have these ingredients today?”

 She handed them to Vera who read through them and replied, “Yes, when I went shopping on Wednesday, I had fun getting healthy type food ingredients, so we’re all set,” explained Vera.  Then she looked at her watch and added, “Now that we finished that job, we’ve earned fifteen minutes to rest and enjoy of the view while we visit.”

 I like this way to work and be rewarded,” declared Betty.

 Later, lunch was ready, and the men had returned.  Walt and Betty were given the best seats to see the view as they ate.

 This is one of my favorite meals.  I can see that the two of you have had a busy morning,” Walt complimented.

 “Thank you.  It was so helpful for me to have a good instructor to help me as I tried out these new recipes.  Plus she gave me tips for the other new recipes.  I’ll bet it wasn’t as easy for her to start cooking this way,” commented Vera.

 “No, but she was up to the challenge.  She has always been a very good cook and she made the transition easy and delicious for both of us,” stated Walt smiling at his dear wife.

 After lunch Oscar and Walt went back outside to make measurements for the other garage and storage room for the upstairs home in the big house.

 Betty and Vera washed dishes and cleaned up the kitchen.  Then they sat in the living room admiring the valley and the hillside.  

 Betty commented, I like the pinyon pine trees on the uphill side of Mercy Stream.  Their needles are such a brilliant green.  It’s nice to have evergreen trees especially in the winter when the deciduous trees have lost their leaves.”

 Vera responded, “Yes, and it’s fun to try and get some of their edible nuts before the birds and squirrels have eaten them all.  The juniper trees are pretty also even though their needles are just bluish green.  They often grow in the same areas where the pinyon pine trees grow.  The birds like to eat their greenish colored berries.  I especially like to see the cedar waxwing birds eat those berries as they come through here on their migration back to the south in the fall.  The brown and gray feathers on their backs and wings go well with the yellow on their breasts.  The crests on their heads don't stand up very often, but they look good even when they’re lying flat.  I keep my binoculars handy so I can see them.”

 When the men came inside, they went upstairs for more photos, measurements and planning.  It took more time and planning up there, in order to include a kitchen, dining, and laundry area for that home, since the upstairs was mostly bedrooms and bathrooms.  They had been used for couples or families who didn’t want a cabin, but would rather eat whatever Vera would be cooking.  One of the many bathrooms could be renovated to be the laundry area. The bedroom that went with it could be used as part of the kitchen.  A large bedroom and its bathroom would have space and plumbing for the rest of the kitchen, plus an area for the dining room with a view of the mountains.  The sitting room upstairs would do nicely for a living room.

 Walt drew a quick sketch of the floor plan as it was, so he could figure the best way to convert it into a foster home.  “Do you wish to have this be a split plan with the master bedroom on one end and the girls bedrooms on the other, or do you think it would be better to have all of them in one area, like they’ll be in the cabins?” asked Walt.

 Let me ask Vera what she thinks.  We need to decide some other things for our downstairs home, and we’ll ask Betty for her ideas on this question also,” answered Oscar.

 So they discussed it for a while in the living room.  They decided that it would be best to have all the bedrooms in one area, the same way they’d be in all the cabins.

 Then they toured the downstairs again and made decisions as needed for that area.  Walt took more photos, drew another quick floor plan for the downstairs area, and wrote many things in his notebook.  It worked well to have all four of them looking at and discussing this area together.  They came up with a lot of ideas that would make it a comfortable home for Oscar, Vera, and four foster girls.

 Walt stated, “This has been a very productive and enjoyable day.  With all this information, I should be able to draw preliminary floor plans and give you a good idea about how much it’ll cost and how long it’ll take to do this remodeling and build all the additions.  I might as well warn you right now, it will cost a lot, because you need to add rooms and bathrooms to four cabins, plus garages and storage areas for all the cabins and for the upstairs home, and so much remodeling to do upstairs.  In addition to all of that of course, you’ll have to get and pay for a building permit.”

 Oscar replied, “Thank you for your honesty.  We aren’t surprised, because we did a little research before we asked you to come out here.  We have the money to pay for it, and it’ll be money well spent.  This dude ranch has been very profitable for many years and we’ve saved and invested as much as we could for just as many years, and have gotten a good return.”

 Vera exclaimed, We’re so excited about our plans for this ranch!  Thank you, Walt and Betty, for coming here today to make an estimate for us.  We enjoyed visiting with you also.”

 “You’re very welcome,” Betty replied.  “Thank you both for being such gracious hosts.  We’d love to have you come to our home sometime soon so we could give you our bid, but just seeing all the interruptions your paying guests make in your daily life here, we understand that you wouldn’t be able to both come at the same time.  Therefore, as soon as Walt’s ready to show you the plans and the estimate, we’ll invite ourselves to come here again.”  She smiled in a kidding sort of way.

 The rest laughed at her self-invitation and then Vera said, “Of course!  You may come visit us any time.  You don’t even have to wait until the estimate’s finished.”

 

 In Pine City, Esther and Ruth were up just as early on Saturday morning as if they were going to work, so they could be ready to go at 8:30.  Both of them were looking forward to this excursion.  They dressed in casual pant suits and put on comfortable walking shoes after finishing breakfast, and were ready with five minutes to spare.  The men arrived and they got into the back of Nathan’s car this time.  For their last date, Felix drove.  These were the strangest double dates Ruth and Esther had ever been on in their lives, but it seemed that this was the only way it would work.

 The drive to the butterfly pavilion was mostly silent because it appeared that Nathan liked quiet concentration for his driving responsibility.  Felix already knew this and the ladies followed his lead.  It was actually a relaxing way to travel this time, because conversing from back to front seats would be rather awkward.

 After parking, they walked in a side-by-side line of four, across the parking lot to get to the entrance.  Once inside with their tickets paid for, Nathan commented, “I know this must seem rather unwieldy for you ladies since this isn’t really a double date, with two couples.  But in order for Esther to have equal time with each of us, we thought we could switch partners about half way through.  Will that be all right with the two of you?”

 Esther answered for both of them, “Certainly.  I never thought through the logistics of this kind of dating, so we’ll do what you two think is best.”

 Felix offered his arm to Esther and said, “Shall we?”  He squelched a tease that came to his mind and tried to think of something else to say.

 Nathan and Ruth followed, more like a brother and sister would.  Pretty soon the awkwardness wore off and everyone enjoyed the plants, flowers, and especially the butterflies!  Sometimes one would even come and land on a person, especially if the person was wearing something as colorful as a flower.

 Esther remarked, “The flowers in here are just as beautiful as the butterflies.  Look at all the hibiscus flowers growing in the area over there.”  They walked over to see them better.

 Felix replied, “Yes, I see red ones, an orange one, which is a double, and some pink ones, to mention a few.”

 Ruth agreed, “They’re all so beautiful.  This pink and orange one is a perfect specimen.”  

 Looking down at the base of that plant Esther mentioned, “I like the big heart-shaped leaves growing here with the pink anthurium flowers, which are also in the shape of hearts.  It would make a perfect valentine plant.  Oh!  A zebra butterfly just landed on a glossy leaf.”

 “Wow!” stated Nathan, “The glossy leaf makes a perfect background for this butterfly.”

 Felix saw another one and pointed, “There’s a butterfly with its wings closed and it looks like it has a big eye on the lower portion of its wing.”

 Ruth added, “I think the eye would scare away most predators.”

 Nathan continued, “I agree, and on the leaves next to that one, are three of another kind of butterfly with their wings closed also.”

 Esther concurred, “Yes, and I really like the dark gray upper wings with white wavy lines on them, and the orange lower wings with the broad black stripe and black spots.”

 Felix added, “I can see on the body of one of them, the upper wing stripes continue onto its body.”

 Next they saw two pretty pink flowers and a small blue butterfly landed on one of them to drink nectar.  

 Then Ruth remarked, “I like these leaves with the peach and yellow splotches in the middle.”

 I like them also,” added Esther with a giggle.  “They look like a bunch of kindergarten children had fun painting them.”  The others laughed.

 Felix stated, “The ones over there must have been designed by a geometry class then.”  More laughter followed.

 Next they saw some pretty yellow flowers and Nathan remarked, “They need some hummingbirds in here to get the nectar out of this kind of flower.”

 Ruth responded, “That’s true, this flower would be perfect for hummingbirds.”

 Just then a hawk moth flew to one of the flowers and hovered there like a hummingbird would.  Its long proboscis or mouth tube came out and went deeply into the elongated flower.  The four young people were delighted as they watched.

 Later, about half way through the pavilion, Esther exclaimed, “I’m amazed at all the variety, color, and beauty of God’s wonderful creation!  How could anyone really look at all God has made and then give evolution the credit instead?”

 “I agree,” stated Felix.  “I actually used to accept what we were taught in the public school, but after I became a believer and read the first chapters of the book of Genesis, I changed my mind. The things I studied about agriculture at the university also helped me worship the Almighty Creator instead of believing what evolutionists say.”

 Nathan added, “Yes, just look at the intricacies of this flower for instance, or that black butterfly with red-orange bursts of color on his wings that are rimmed with white.  They were obviously designed by an all wise designer who knew how to make everything work the very first time and then reproduce themselves in order to do it over and over.  Otherwise they would have become extinct immediately.”

 I’m glad we all agree it could NOT have happened just by chance!” Ruth declared.  The display we saw about the life cycle of a butterfly was another good proof of creation.

 Nathan moved to take the place of Felix beside Esther and they continued their tour.  She asked him, “Which flower color do you enjoy the most?”

 Definitely red, because I’ve been thinking how nice any of these red flowers would look with your shiny black hair,” he answered warmly.

 Thank you, Nathan.  That was a nice compliment,” Esther responded, refusing to let herself blush.  Instead she looked at him and smiled.

 In his mind he thought, “There are more compliments for you, Esther, and as soon as I find appropriate places and times, I’ll say them to you.  I won’t be silent any longer, instead I’ll tell you how much I admire you.”  Then out loud he asked, “What’s your favorite flower color?”

 Esther answered, I think that sometimes it depends on how I’m feeling.  Yellow is for sunny days.  On cloudy days I appreciate flamboyant red to cheer me up, but mostly I like all of the colors, shapes, sizes and smells, because there’s so much variety.  When I go grocery shopping I always stop and look at the floral section first and it helps the rest of the shopping go better.  But I never buy any flowers or flowering plants, because I don’t like to take care of them after I get home.  I just enjoy them in the store.”

 He responded, Thank you for telling me.  I enjoy learning things about you because you are a very interesting person. …  Oh, look at that pretty yellow tiger swallowtail butterfly!  It’s one of my favorite kinds.”

 Soon Ruth mentioned, “I don’t know the name of this pink tropical flower, but it’s very pretty.”

 Esther looked and said, “I like it too.  The gray butterfly near it has a quiet beauty with scalloped wings and wavy lines that continue the pattern.  And it has black and orange spots circled with white and then more wavy lines.”

 Felix mentioned, “He looked pretty drab to me until you described him in detail.”

 Nathan added, “I’ve always liked to listen to the way you express yourself so eloquently, Esther.”

 “Thank you, Nathan.”  She smiled and he nodded.  Then they all continued looking.  Later he suggested, “Let’s see how many of these butterflies, listed with their photographs in this pamphlet, we can find as we continue on our way.”

 I’d enjoy doing that,” she replied.  Felix and Ruth also agreed and both “couples” were able to find most of the ones pictured in the pamphlet.  

 Afterward Felix inquired, “Esther, is there something here in the gift shop you would enjoy as a souvenir from this very interesting place?  It’ll be from Nathan and me.”

 “Oh, my!  Is there enough time for me to look around for a while before I make a final decision?” she asked.

 Sure, take your time,” answered Nathan.  One thing I like about the restaurant where we’re going, is that no reservations are needed.  We’ll look around too, while you’re deciding.”

 Esther prayed silently as she looked at everything.  “Please, Jesus, help me find just the right thing that doesn’t cost too much.”  She was vacillating between a book with many beautiful photographs and interesting information about the butterflies and flowers or a poster with fewer photographs and less information.  The book cost a little more, but she knew she’d like it better, so she chose it and showed Felix and Nathan.

 Perfect!” they said, and went to pay for it.

 When they handed it to her she said, Thank you Felix and Nathan.  I’ll really treasure and enjoy this book a lot.  The time inside the pavilion was wonderful, and this book will help me take the memories with me and enjoy them again and again.”  Each one told her in his own way that she was welcome.  It gave them much pleasure to buy something for her.

 They walked again in a horizontal line on the way back to the car with Esther between the two men.  Once when Esther tripped on a stone that should not have been there, both men reached to steady her and keep her from falling.  She blushed and thanked them.  The men opened the back car doors for the ladies and made sure they were seated before closing the doors.  It was very nice to be treated like ladies by the gentlemen.

 The restaurant was next, and they all enjoyed choosing their favorite foods from the buffet.  The ladies chose mostly salads, vegetables and skinless chicken or, unbreaded, baked fish.  That way they were even able to go back for seconds and dessert without eating too many calories.  Both men were big eaters and Esther took mental notes on their favorite foods.  This was another good way to get to know them better.

 I like this restaurant,” Esther remarked.  “The food is fresh and tastily prepared.  It’s nice to be able to look at, and choose my favorite things without having to study a menu.”

  Nathan replied, “I agree.  They have it nicely laid out and the food is easy to reach with the tongs or spoons.  Let’s all go back for seconds and then desserts.”  He emphasized the ‘s’ on desserts.

 As they were eating their seconds, Felix told a funny story about the experiences of some make-believe animals.  They went out to eat at an expensive, high society restaurant.  Ruth and Esther had to quit eating or else choke on their food while trying to laugh quietly.

 Nathan joined the laughter and said at the end, “That was a fun story, Felix.  I enjoy your good sense of humor.”

 Esther added, “You did an excellent job of telling the story.  I could almost imagine myself there watching their antics.”

 Felix smiled and inclined his head humbly to accept their compliments.  It felt good to be able to make people laugh without teasing and being a nuisance.

 Next, the men got three or four small helpings of different kinds of desserts and Felix commented at the table, “Now I know how you ladies keep such nice figures.  You ate mostly vegetables and small helpings of lean meat at lunch, and got only very small helpings of two different kinds of desserts.  I commend you.”

 Ruth responded, “Thank you, Felix.  Both of you men have physically active jobs that require more calories than Esther and I need with our sit down jobs.  So you get to eat more than we do.  It was all delicious.”

 Esther agreed and used this opportunity to say, “Yes, I enjoyed the food and the conversation immensely.  Thank you, Nathan and Felix, for the fun dates and good food we’ve had on these dates.  But I am worried about the amount of money you both are having to spend on these double dates.”

 Both of them assured her that it was not a problem for them.

 Esther thanked them and continued, “A book I read suggests discussing important issues early on in the dating process, so the couples can find out if they’d be compatible before they get too emotionally involved to be able to think straight.  That part would only work for me in this situation, since you both have already told me of your feelings for me.  But I do believe it would be helpful for me.  So I think it might be a good idea if you men and I would write what our thoughts are on the most important issues and let each other read them.  What do you think?”

 Nathan responded, “I think it’s a brilliant idea, and I agree with the book.  We’ll do anything we can, to help you in your decision making, won’t we, Felix.”

 “Of course!” he answered and squelched another tease.

 Thank you both for understanding.  I brought with me three copies of some issues.  Please read through them and we can discuss whether to add more issues or subtract any of these,” explained Esther handing a list to each of them.

 Each man added an issue and Esther deleted one of the others that was really just a duplicate of another one.

 Esther said, “I suggest that at home we write what I’ll call our individual thesis or dissertation on each of these important issues and bring them to our next date.  For that date, you two can figure out something fun and active, we could do outside or some other place for a while and then we could go into the shopping mall since there are places in the mall to sit in conversation groupings.  If I make two copies of mine, and you make one apiece, we can all read them at the same time and then discuss them. I might need more time to read, since I’ll be reading two dissertations.”

 Felix questioned, “Do you think you’ll have yours written up by next Saturday?”

 Yes, I think so.  Will you and Nathan be ready by then?” Esther inquired.

 Nathan and Felix nodded, but Ruth remarked, It sounds like a homework assignment to me, so I’m glad I don’t have to join in this part of the next date!”  Everyone laughed and it helped to lighten up this serious discussion before the drive back to Pine City.

 

 Jeff and Karen Spencer were visiting with Ted and Julie at the Blake’s apartment after enjoying a nice meal together on Sunday evening.  “How’s your small group going, Ted?” Jeff asked.

 Very well, because you and Karen did such a good job of training Julie and me how to be facilitators at the end of last year.  We told our members that this is our first year as facilitators and they’re really patient and helpful if we forget something,” Ted responded.

 Julie added, “The people stay and mingle after refreshments, and we’re all getting to know each other pretty well.  It’s good for us to be making new friends, but I’ll have to admit that I miss our Saturday small group from last year.  It’ll always have a special place in my memories because it was the first small group we had ever been in.  We learned so much and made many good friends.”

 Karen mentioned, “It was a very special group, and we treasure our memories also.  Our new group is off to a good start too.  This year all the small groups are smaller since the new church building opened this month and all the congregations are smaller because many people volunteered to go be in the new churches so all of us can keep growing like we did last year.”

 Jeff continued, “It’s a good plan.  It’ll just take us a little while to get used to the smaller sizes.  Once the small groups start with their two by two ministries again, I think God will begin to add more people to his church like he does in his time and way.”

 You’re right, Honey,” agreed Karen, and then she asked, “I know we have year round schools in Pine City, so how’s your new class of third graders, Julie?”

 They’re precious, and I already love them.  I think it must be a little bit like a mother with a new baby.  I worried about being able to love them as much as the class the year before, but I learned that love doesn’t divide or subtract.  Instead, it multiplies.  I have delightful memories of my last class and the other two classes from the public school.  Each year another class will be added to that, and my love will multiply to reach all of them,” explained Julie.

 Karen responded, “I'm sure you must be right.  Neither of us have ever been mothers, and I haven't been a school teacher, but I know it worked that way for me with the small groups of children I used to teach in Sunday school.  Is your class smaller this year because of the new school they just opened?”  

 Julie answered, “Yes, I only have 16 compared to 25 last year.  I’m sure you remember Roy and Sherry telling us about Cory.  He’s the boy who wasn’t able to walk because his legs had been paralyzed since birth. But God miraculously healed him through their two by two ministry last summer.  Cory and his best friend are in my class this year.  They are a blessing.  I was a little worried that they might be too interested in visiting instead of learning, but they’re both so well behaved that they’re good examples for the rest of my class.”

 I’m glad for you!” exclaimed Karen.  “They’re being a help to you instead of a hindrance.”

 Yes, it’s delightful.” Julie continued, “There are also a couple girls from his class the year before, so four of my students haven’t had the benefit of the other three years in the church school.  The other 12 students are helping them to learn some of the things they haven’t learned yet.  I’m still amazed at the way God worked everything out so I could get a job teaching in the Grace ‘n’ Faith Church School, just a few weeks after we moved to Pine City.  I am extremely thankful.”

 Jeff remarked, “Yes, God is good and his ways are amazing.”

 

 Thursday evening Esther finally finished her dissertation about all the issues on the list.  “You’re right, Ruth, it was just like a homework assignment.  I’ve read and reread and proofread and made corrections and changes until I’m tired of it.  But here are three copies, one for each of the men and one for me.”

 Good job, Esther, now you’re ready for our date on Saturday.  How do you feel about a cold hike up to the top of that hill south of town?  As for me, I’m hoping it’ll snow so much that it’ll be too slick to go.”

 Those are my feelings exactly, Ruth.  You and I used to go outside with Dad every time it snowed, and do something we really enjoyed, but anymore I’d rather stay inside where it’s warm.”

 

 Friday evening at supper, Julie described, “We had a fun sharing time with my koala puppet, Kippy, today.  Then during the prayer time, Cory expressed his praise and thanks to Jesus for healing his legs so he can run now.  He said he was thinking about the song ‘Why Complain’ where it mentions that so many cannot run, and he was glad he no longer was in that group of people.  He’s a very deep thinker.  I really enjoy having him in my class this year.”

 Ted responded, “I’m glad for you, my dear Jewel, and I feel happy that I get to hear about your class and the things they do and say.  Thank you again, Jesus, for giving that teaching job to Julie last year.  You’ve provided so well for both of us.”

 Yes, I thank you again also, and for my wonderful husband and his job and the way he listens to, and understands me.”  Then she asked, “How is your job going, my treasure?”

 It’s going well and it’s a good job, but sometimes I feel like I’d like to do more with my life than just fix damaged vehicles.  When I was going to the trade school, I studied doing that, plus being a handyman who can fix many of the problems people might have in their homes.  It has been wonderful to be able to use that knowledge in our homes.  Let’s pray about whether God might have a change in jobs for me in the future.”

 So Julie prayed right then.  “Father in heaven, you’ve supplied our needs so well for us in our lives together and in our searches for your will.  Please guide again in this situation so we won’t miss the next step in our adventure with you.”

 Ted continued, “I’m thankful for the job you gave me here and I’ll continue to be content with it, if this is where you want me to stay.  But if you have given me this desire to work at something that might be more useful to you in your Kingdom, then I definitely will be glad to change, if I know for sure it’s your will.  We ask these things in Jesus precious name.  Amen.”

 Later Julie questioned, Is there something else you might like to learn along with the Spanish you’re studying?”

 As a matter of fact,” he replied, “I have been thinking about learning how to play the guitar.  It would be a nice way we could sing together when I get good enough.”

 Julie exclaimed, “I like your idea!  Do you know of anyone who’s giving lessons?”

 “Yes,” Ted responded, “one of the members of the music team who plays the guitar announced last Thursday that he’d be willing to teach any of us how to play.”

 Next she asked, “Do you think you’d like to take lessons from him?”

 “I don’t know him very well,” answered Ted, “but since he’s a dedicated member of the music team, I’d be willing to try.”

 Julie suggested, “Then go for it my dearest.  I’m all for it, one hundred percent!”

 He exclaimed, “Thank you, Jewel, I’ll do it!”  Hugs and kisses…

 

 Saturday morning dawned cold and sunny and there had been no snow overnight or the two days before.  So, the four “double daters” hiked up the hill, talking and laughing all the way.  The ladies had to admit, “The view was worth the effort and the cold.”  Plus the guys made the excursion a whole lot of fun.

 They all warmed up when they got to the inside shopping mall where the men bought Ruth and Esther hot cinnamon apple cider.  They were able to stay at that table to read and discuss issues.  Ruth had brought a book of her own choosing to read.

 One of the issues they discussed was about two by two and four by four ministries.  Felix and Nathan understood how the ministries work and had been involved in them already. The three of them agreed they were very important ministries to carry out every week and were a good way to spread the gospel.

 Esther suggested, “Since the three of us are singles, I think it would be best to get one more member to join our team.  My best friend Sunny Sanchez is also in our small group and I know she’d like to partner with me and two others.  Do you think it would work to have her join us in a four by four group?”

 Nathan replied, “I think so.  Does she know that we three are dating?”  Felix covered a cough to keep from teasing.

 “No, I haven’t told her, but I think she’ll need to be informed about your project and have Ruth tell her how to act as the fourth member of the group.  I’m hoping Sunny will agree to do it.”

 Felix added, “I hope so too.  It’ll give us another opportunity to be together each week, and you can observe how we act in other situations besides dates.”

 Nathan exclaimed, “What good thinking, Felix!  I had been trying to figure out a way we could spend more time together.”

 For the rest of the issues, Nathan and Felix wrote almost identical dissertations except for personal ways of saying things.  They explained the reason this happened was because they’ve been friends and roommates for so long and had gone to the same church and small groups for many years.  They both agreed with everything Esther said in her dissertation.  

 Now Esther could be completely frustrated with trying to choose between them.  But she decided to continue enjoying the whole adventure while she trusted Jesus to help her make the right decision about whether marriage was his will, and if it was, to choose the better one of the two men, or maybe somebody else.

 

 That evening, Esther called and invited Sunny Sanchez to lunch the next day at their apartment.  Then we can all go to church together after lunch and visiting.  Would you bring a salad with some of your favorite vegetables?  We already have plenty of choices of dressing.”

 On Sunday, Sunny arrived with a beautiful tossed salad made with several types of green leafy vegetables and colorful grated carrots, radishes, and red cabbage.

 Ruth exclaimed, “This is a beautiful salad!  You’re an artist using the creator’s vegetables to produce a masterpiece.  I’m going to take a picture before we eat it.  Stand right there, … that’s right.  Smile for the camera.”  Click.  She looked at the viewer and said, “Perfect.”  

 Sunny laughed and responded, “Thank you.  I do enjoy seeing all those beautiful colors together.”

 Esther observed, “I thought that since you work in the produce section of the Local Grocery, you’d know just the right combination of vegetables to put in a salad for us today, and I was right.  It is a splendid salad and I know it’ll be delicious.”

 Thank you,” responded Sunny.  “I enjoy working there because every day I get to see some of God’s handiwork.  I’ve been researching on the web about how the farmers grow these vegetables and the fruit we sell.  It’s an amazing amount of work for them, especially for organic farmers.  But I’m glad they’re willing to do it.”

 Same here, I enjoy eating them without having to do all that work.  So, let’s go eat,” suggested Ruth as she led the way to the table.

 After lunch and cleanup, they went into the living room to visit.  Esther began, “I asked you to come today for two reasons. First, we don’t get to spend enough time together and second, I want to tell you about some things that have been happening lately in my life.”

 Sunny stated, “Well, I’m very glad we could get together today. I have missed getting to visit with you.  What’s going on for you?”

 Esther gave a summary of the last three weeks and Sunny looked astonished.  “I know you always tell the truth, but this story is just about unbelievable.  I remember you telling me about two teenage boys you met at the dude ranch while we were in high school, but I had forgotten their names.  That was a LONG time ago.  I saw those two new men go talk to you after the first meeting but not since then, so I didn’t think anything about it.  Are you sure you can trust them to not be crooks of some kind?”

 Esther answered, “Ruth and I did worry about that at first, but we found out on our first date, that they became believers on the same day my family and I did.  They were at the same evangelistic meeting as we were, but they, and we didn’t know the others were there.  There’s no way they could have made that up.  We’ve had several exceptionally good discussions about many things and yes, I think we can trust them.  Plus, they’re real gentlemen.”

 Sunny just sat there with her hand over her mouth, too bewildered to say anything else about what she had heard so far.

  So Esther continued, “I wanted you to know that they want me to date both of them at the same time and their goal is for me to choose the one I think would be the better husband for me.  I know it’ll be awkward for you to be in this group, but there’s no other person I would ask.  Besides, as my best friend, I thought you’d be the only one who could understand this strange situation and be able to do as Ruth has been doing on the dates we’ve had with them.  I know it’s an unheard of occurrence, but …”  

 All right, I believe you, and I know I can trust you, so Ruth, please tell me everything I need to know, so our four by four ministry group can work.”  Ruth told her, and Sunny felt much better.  “That won’t be so hard.  I think I can do it.”

 Esther was relieved.  “Thank you so much, Sunny, I really appreciate you.  You’re going to help me continue to give the men a chance to complete their project.  The men and I are keeping the fact that we’re dating confidential, and I know you will also.  We just don’t want to get people in the group talking and speculating.”

 Of course.  I understand, and I won’t say anything about it to anyone.  Do the men know you’re telling me all these things?” questioned Sunny.

 Yes, I told them you’re my best friend and you need to be informed about the whole situation.”

 Sunny responded, “Wow!  I’m sure glad you told me about this before small group tomorrow when we ‘choose’ partners, and a time to go on our first four by four ministry time with them.  Have they ever done this type of ministry?”

 Ruth answered this time, “Yes.  They had been going to a church very much like ours in their city before they moved here, and their small groups did this kind of ministry there also.”

 Sunny said. As I think about all you’ve told me, I can see things that couldn’t be coincidences, so I’ll trust the promise in Romans 8:28, we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”

 Esther responded, “I agree, and I’m immensely glad we can be in unity about their project and about working together in the new four by four group with Nathan and Felix.  Now that we have all that settled, please tell us about what has been going on in your life since the last time we visited.

 Sunny took a deep breath, visibly relaxed, and smiled her usual happy smile.  “I’m happy to tell you that my life hasn’t changed at all since then and I’m extremely grateful to not have an unbelievable story to share with you!  Of course, I’d be happy to tell you that my knight in shining armor came on his beautiful horse to carry me away with him to his castle to live happily ever after.”

 After laughing along with Ruth about her friend’s fun sense of humor, Esther asked, “So what you’re saying is that you’re no closer to an answer about singleness and marriage than the last time we talked?  I guess you can tell from what I’ve said so far, that I really don’t have a clear answer either.

  You’re right,” Sunny replied, “and yes, I can tell about you, but I also understand that you have two knights who declared their love for you, but they’re such noble fellows that they agreed to not fight over you, but let you choose the one you think is better.”

  Esther laughed and explained, Yeah, that’s the hardest part of their whole project for me to accept.  I don’t want to hurt either of them by choosing one or maybe neither of them, depending on how Jesus leads me.  Jesus must have some reason of his own, or a lesson for me or for them to learn in this whole process.  I assume that it’s too soon for any of us to know what it might be,”

  “It’s all part of the adventure!”  Sunny declared, with her own special, playful, fun expression.  They all laughed together, and it was a fun way to end the visit and then go to church as a group of good friends to worship and learn more about God.

 

 Monday’s small group was a review for most of the people about how to do two by two ministries.  One couple who was new to the church was given a booklet called, “I Can Do,” with more in depth teaching so they could read it and then get together with an experienced couple who’d show them how, and answer any questions they had.  Theirs would be called a four by four group.

 During the fellowship time following the meeting, the other group members chose their partners if they weren’t already a married couple since they’d already be a two by two team.  Esther and Sunny talked with Felix and Nathan so they could decide on a time and place to meet for their first time of ministry.

 Felix said, “Sunny and Esther, we’re extremely glad that you both will be partners with us in this four by four group.”

 Sunny replied, “Thank you.  From what I understand, we’ll have the privilege of being two pairs of best friends working together for the best friend of all of us, Jesus.

 They all smiled with appreciation and Nathan added,  “Yes, that’ll definitely be a benefit to our group.”

 Esther noted, “We all have 8 to 5 week day jobs.  What would be the most practical time for us to meet for our first ministry time?”

 The men shrugged and Felix observed, “I think women are best at planning times like this.  What’s your preference?”

 Sunny smiled and said, “Esther and I will talk it over and get back to you.  What places and activities do you think will work best for our group, Nathan and Felix?”

 Nathan answered, “In the past, when we’ve had a mixed four by four group, instead of three or four men, we’ve gone shopping in grocery stores, shopping malls, etc. to get things we need to buy, and be alert to the others around us to see in what manner Jesus would have us minister to them.  When the weather warms up, we could take walks in our neighborhoods and pray and observe the people to see if anyone needs help with anything, always listening to Jesus Spirit in us to do whatever he tells us.”

 Felix added, “Another time we found an older couple who needed help with some painting inside their home and the four of us made short work of it.  We had a chance to explain why we’d work for free.  Plus there are all the ideas in the ‘I Can Do’ booklet we got from Pastor Don last month.”

 Esther mentioned, “Those are good ideas.  I know that Sunny shops for her groceries once or twice a week at the end of her work time just before going home, so since the rest of us can’t get to the Local Grocery by 5 PM, grocery shopping won’t work for our group.  She and I do enjoy going to the shopping mall after supper sometimes.  Would it work for the four of us to meet there at 7 PM this Thursday for our first ministry time and see how it goes?  By then Sunny and I should have a chance to talk more about our time preferences.”

 The other three nodded and agreed to that idea.  Then Nathan offered, “We’d like to pick both of you up at your homes and then drop you off when we finish so you don’t have to drive and park there alone.  It would be much safer for you and our car will be warm when we come to pick you up.”  

 Felix was nodding his agreement, so Sunny and Esther thanked them and accepted.  Sunny gave Nathan a card that had her address and phone number on it and they all went home.

 

 Oscar mentioned at supper Wednesday at the ranch, “Vera, I wonder how Walt’s coming along with his floor plans and the estimate for our ranch.  I know it’s way too early for him to know anything, but sometimes I have a hard time waiting patiently.  Once we’ve made a decision I tend to want to have it finished yesterday!”

 I understand, Honey, because I’m very much the same way.  Maybe we both need another lesson in patience.  What could we do while we’re waiting?” Vera asked.

 Well,” Oscar suggested, “If it’s warm enough tomorrow afternoon, I’d like us to go for a horseback ride with Nathan and ascertain if he still likes horses as much as he used to.”

 Vera smiled and replied, “I’d really like to go for a ride outside if it’s not too cold, because it’s so much more fun than in the inside riding ring.  Could we ask our guests if they’d like to join us?  We’ve been riding several times inside, but I think they’d enjoy the change as much as my horse and I would.”

 Sure, my love, I like that idea also.”  Then Oscar asked, “How’s your horse doing now?  Was our vet, Unice Logan, able to take care of the limp you mentioned last week?  I forgot to ask you earlier.”

 She answered, “Yes, it was just a little rock that had gotten stuck in a place I didn’t notice when I cleaned her feet before our ride that day.  I had taken her right over to Unice, and she was able to fix it right then, so I could go back and ride without having to worry.  I wondered when we hired her if she was too young to be able to be a veterinarian and a family nurse practitioner both, which is what we need here.  She explained to me how she was able to finish high school and graduate early from the university, and spend that extra time getting both certifications by the time she was 32.  I’m glad she wants to stay single and live and work here at the ranch full-time.”

 He nodded. “Yes, and it reminds me of something else we can do while we wait for Walt’s estimate.  We can call and make an appointment with Unice to tell her about our idea and plans, and ask her if she’ll agree to stay here as our horse vet and family nurse practitioner for the new Mercy Valley Ranch.  We’ll definitely still need all her expertise and services just as much then as we do now!”

 You’re right!” Vera agreed.  “Plus we also need to make an appointment with our lawyer to make changes in our wills, and set up the paperwork for a living trust for the ranch and for what will be left of our investments after all the new building and remodeling is finished.  The money needs to be reinvested to earn as much as possible to be able to keep the new ranch running after we go home to live in heaven.  It’s a good feeling to know we’ll leave something that will continue to be used in the restoration of lives for God’s glory.”

 Oscar stated, “Yes, it will definitely be something we can rejoice about while we live here and when we get home to heaven.  We’ll also need to be looking for a couple who will continue to supervise the work when we’re no longer able to do it.  We should include arrangements for us to continue to live and be cared for here in this home until the Lord calls us home to be with him.  So I think we’ll have plenty to keep us busy until and after Walt is able to tell us his estimate!”

 

 Thursday evening in Pine City, Ruth smiled at Esther as she was getting ready to go with the group to the shopping mall.  Then she said, “I’m sorry you have to go out on this cold evening, but I’m also truly relieved that I get to stay home this time.  It was considerate of Felix and Nathan to offer to come pick both of you up.  I’m really impressed by the way they’re doing things.”

 So am I, and I’m getting so I like them more and more as I learn more good qualities about them,” admitted Esther.

 Just then the intercom sounded and Esther told Nathan she’d be right down.  He made sure she was seated before closing the back door and getting in the front.  Then they went to pick up Sunny, and all the actions were repeated.

 Before starting to drive, Felix turned to face the back seat and suggested, “When we get inside the mall this evening, let’s pair up in a normal way with us two men in front, and you can follow at a little distance while you shop and we all pray for God’s leading. If nothing happens after half an hour we’ll switch places.”

 Nathan added, “While you or we are following, if anything happens to alarm you or you need our help or for any reason, just call my name and we’ll come quickly.  I have excellent hearing, so I’ll hear you easily.  Remember, we’re in a group to help keep you ladies safe while all of us are also alert to ministry opportunities.”

 Thank you Felix and Nathan for the information and the helpful instructions.  It’s a good idea to have plans,” Esther responded.

 They walked from the car to the mall in a horizontal line with Esther between the two men and Sunny on one end.  That way either lady could be helped if she needed it.

 Once inside, they paired off as suggested and followed at a close enough distance that with Esther's good hearing she could tell they were praying as they walked and shopped, although it just looked like they were visiting.

 In about ten minutes, the men stopped short and therefore the ladies did also.  They were quietly observing a father who started saying mean things to his boy and girl.  When that didn’t get the action he asked for he began to grab, slap, push and shove them in the direction he wanted them to go.

 Nathan and Felix disappeared into the men’s section of clothes and Sunny and Esther melted into the women’s section on the other side of the isle.  They saw Nathan pull out his cell phone and make a quick call to the mall authorities.  Two officers came immediately and the woman took the children with her in spite of the objections of their father who was silenced by the male officer and was led away in the other direction.

 The four by four group met back in the isle and left the store to find a place to sit so they could pray together for that family and then talk about what to do next.

 Nathan started, “Father, you knew what was going to happen in that store and graciously put us there at just the right time to stop the violence before it got completely out of hand.”

 Esther continued, “Yes, thank you for giving the men good observational skills and quick reactions to make the phone call.”

 Sunny added, “Thank you for cell phones and for authorities who were fast in responding.  Please comfort the children and heal their physical and emotional wounds.”

 Felix concluded, “Thank you for using us to help the children. Please help their father want to be saved, and help him control his temper so he can be a good dad.  Until then, please put those children into a good foster home.  We pray in Jesus name.  Amen.”

 Nathan saw that Felix was still upset, so he put a hand on his shoulder to reassure him and prayed silently for him.  Soon Felix relaxed and said, “I think this would be a good time to tell you ladies about my background.  It was like watching a rerun of my life in that store just a few minutes ago.  My big sister and I were often treated like that until I was about six years old.  Some nice people reported it to the authorities and we were removed from that house.  We went to live in a foster home with the Mendoza family.  They were outstanding parents for us and I’ve had a lasting friendship with Nathan from the start.  I’m still praying for my biological dad, and I thank God for saving my mother.”

 The ladies were sitting in shocked silence for a few moments and then Esther responded, “Felix, thank you for telling us about your background.  Father in heaven, thank you for getting Felix and his sister out of that horrible situation and into a foster home that took good care of them.”

 Nathan added, “Please comfort Felix and erase those bad memories that resurfaced this evening.  Use this event to bring more healing in his life and help us to know whatever you have for us to do for other hurting children in our world.”

 Sunny continued, “Yes, please help the children through us and your other servants to rescue them so they don’t have to continue living in abusive situations.”

 I agree with all those prayers and thank you for the healing you’ve done and will continue to do in my life,” concluded Felix.

 Esther suggested, If it’s satisfactory with the rest of you, I’d like for us to just walk around out here in the mall for a short time to get some exercise and relieve some of our tension.”

 Thank you for that good idea.”  Nathan stood up and nudged Felix to walk with him.  The ladies led the way and talked as they walked back and forth rapidly.  Soon they were more relaxed and were breathing more evenly.  They went back to sit for a while.

 Sunny said, “Esther and I discussed what time we’d prefer.  Instead of evening times, how would it work to do our ministry times on Saturdays between lunch and supper?  We could meet here at the mall at 2:30 PM and still be home to fix our suppers.”

 Felix replied, “It’s a good idea, especially for the winter, since it’s always colder in the evenings.  We can try it next week.”

 I agree, but we’ll still come pick you up at your homes so we can know that you’re warm and safe,” Nathan added.

 Esther smiled and responded, “All right.  Thank you for the way you take care of us.  Shall we go back into the store now or would you rather go home?”

 Felix replied, Thank you for asking, Esther.  I really would rather go home now.”

 That’ll be fine with us,” said Sunny.  Nathan nodded and they left the mall.  Felix drove everyone home.

 Esther told Ruth about the evening and all that had been said and done, and wrote about it in her journal before going to bed.

 The next morning before leaving for work, Felix made a phone call.  “Hi, Esther and Ruth, this is Felix and Nathan, and we were wondering if you’d enjoy going bowling tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 PM, and we’ll be sure you’re back home in time to fix your own supper.”

 Nathan added, “Feel free to say you’d rather not, if you don’t like a suggestion we make.”

 Esther responded, “Thank you for saying that.  We both do enjoy bowling but we aren’t very good at it.”

 Felix remarked, “Neither are we, but it is fun.  We don’t even have to keep score so it won’t be so obvious how bad we are.”

 She laughed and accepted their invitation.  Then she added, “Have a good day at work, both of you gentlemen.”

 Nathan replied, “We wish the same for you ladies.”

 

 Thursday at the ranch wasn’t warm enough for their horseback ride, but Friday after lunch was just perfect.  Five of their guests decided to join Oscar, Vera, and Nathan on a ride to check the ranch fences and generally just to have fun in the outdoors.  No snow on the ground made it even better because it wouldn’t be slick.  

 Part of the experience was to clean all four of the horse’s feet and brush the horse’s hair so it would lie flat before putting on its saddle and bridle.  Some dude ranches did all those things for the guests, but this one wanted them to develop a bond with, and learn proper care of the horses they rode.  Nathan was right there to help any of them who needed it, after he had his horse ready to be ridden.  Oscar and Vera of course, did what was needed to get their own mounts ready and were also able to help a guest if needed.

 Once on their way, with their required helmets on for safety, Vera exclaimed, It’s a splendid day for a ride!  The wind isn’t even blowing and the mountains look so majestic.  We’ll be able to see them better on the way back to the tack room.  We don’t bring our cameras on horseback rides because we need to concentrate on riding, and keep our hands on the reins so we can tell the horse what to do.  They aren’t good mind readers.”  Everyone laughed and decided they could take pictures later.

 Vera rode a Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse.  It was milk chocolate colored with a flaxen mane and tail, and was 14.1 hands high, just right for her small frame.  Its gaits were all very smooth, especially the amble, also known as the single-foot.  It’s a natural four-beat gait in which each hoof is lifted up separately and put back down on the ground.  These horses are remarkably sure-footed and are also gentle and even-tempered.  The ranch has many horses of this breed and one other similar gaited breed, the Tennessee Walking Horse.  It’s famous for its four-beat running walk, which is very much like the single-foot of the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse.  The young children among the guests were mounted on small Kentucky Mountain horses, which were only 11 or 12.2 hands high.

 Oscar and Nathan were both riding matching bay Morgans, that were 15.2 hands high and large enough to carry the extra weight of the men.  These horses do not have smooth gaits like the other horses but are wonderful in their own ways.  They are extremely capable, strong, sound, versatile, and have great staying power.  You just have to learn how to post the trot or else you’ll be in for a lot of bounces.

 They started out on the road riding three abreast except for Oscar and Nathan who brought up the rear.  Vera was in the front setting the pace, and she said, “Remember we always start out at a walk for about five minutes to get the horses warmed up just like people need to do when they exercise.”

 One of the guests commented, “Just like we do inside the big building.  I’ll bet we also need to cool them down at the end.”

 Oscar responded, “You’re correct, and it’s even more important when we ride outside in the winter since it’s colder out here than inside the building.”

 Nathan added, “In the summer we also need to cool them down so they don’t stay overheated.  I'm thankful for all the good training Oscar and Vera gave me when I came as a guest to this ranch.  Now I get to work here and use what I learned.  Horseback riding and the care and training of horses are some of my favorite things to do.”

 After five minutes of walking, Vera inquired, “Are you all ready to go a little faster?”  They answered that they were, so everyone gave the horse a little bump with their heels and they went a little faster.  This was a comfortable speed for all the riders who were on gaited horses, because they didn’t bounce up and down.

 One of the kids asked, “Could we have a race?”  

 Oscar told everyone to halt their horses and asked Nathan to answer that question, so Nathan responded, “We do NOT race horses on this ranch for several reasons.  First, even though it might be fun, it’s dangerous, because people and horses don’t concentrate on safety while they’re racing.  Second, since many of these horses are different sizes and breeds, it wouldn’t be a fair race.  Third, it would give the horses and riders bad habits, like wanting to race when it would not be appropriate, or whipping a horse to make it go faster.  Fourth, in a race, only one person and horse can win and we don’t like that type of competition.  This way, everybody who rides wins, because we enjoy being a team with our horse, asking it to do what we desire and rewarding it with strokes and gentle talking.”

 Vera thought, “Very well said!  I couldn’t have done better myself.”  Then she requested, “Oscar and Nathan, would you trot up here without posting so these guests can see how bouncy the trot is?”  The guests were surprised.  Then she said, “Now please show them the difference posting makes.”  This time they were amazed and she explained.  “You noticed that they rose out of the saddle on alternating steps the horse made with its forelegs.  This made the ride smoother and more comfortable for the rider and it’s easier on the horse’s back.  Thank you, Oscar and Nathan, for your demonstrations.”

 Oscar replied, “You’re welcome.  Now these two ‘cowboys’ with western saddles are going to canter up to where the fence needs to be checked and then slowly walk our horses beside the fence to see if it needs any work done on it.  You’ll probably all catch up with us if you come at your horse’s faster single foot gait or canter for a while, and we can all walk our horses the rest of the way back to the tack room so they’ll be cooled off by then.”

 As Vera and the guests followed Oscar’s suggestion they ended up spread out along the road, and they could all see what Nathan meant by saying that racing these horses would not be a fair race.  Besides, it was fun to be a team with your horse and not be in competition with others.

 Later as they were walking their horses again, one of the guests inquired, What’s the difference between a western saddle and the ones we use, besides what they look like?”

 Vera explained, “The western saddle is larger and heavier.  This helps to spread the weight over more of the horse’s back than our kind.  It’s made with a saddle horn that can be used to wrap a rope around when roping cattle or other horses on some ranches.  It has places to tie on saddle bags and has a comfortable seat for cowboys who need to be riding most of the day.  The kind of saddle we’re using, looks a lot like an English saddle.  It’s made to be good for trail riding and everyday exercising, and it is comfortable for the horse and its rider.  It weighs a lot less than a western saddle, so it’s easier for most riders to put it on the horse.”

 When the riders got back to the tack room, the horses were cooled down like Oscar had said they’d be.  They took off the saddles and saddle blankets, replaced the bridles with a halter, and tied the lead rope to a ring to keep the horse in place.  Then they brushed the whole horse and checked its feet again before leading it over to the pasture, where the horse was stroked and praised some more before its halter was removed and it could be free to roll or graze or go get a drink from the stream.  Next each rider cleaned the tack he or she had used and put it back in its place in the tack room.  They all had the feeling of a job well done and besides, it was a lot of fun!

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Psalm 37:3a,4,5, Trust in the LORD, and do good; …

Delight yourself also in the LORD, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD; trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass.

 

 In Pine City Saturday morning while they were doing housework, Esther questioned, “Do you think it’s too early in this dating process to ask the men to come to our parents home for an evening with a family dinner.  We can ask Jason to come and we’ll all play a board game where we do keep score so I can observe how they treat Jason and our parents and how they win or lose?  But I agree with Felix, that I don’t want to keep score this afternoon as we bowl.”

 Ruth replied, “I think the timing is just right.  Let’s call Dad and Mom and Jason to see if they’d be free this coming Friday evening.  You and I can already be there to help fix dinner.”

 Good, we can see if they offer and carry through with helping to cleanup after dinner.  We have a board game that all seven of us can play through several times and keep track of our scores so we can get a good idea of their sportsmanship.”

 Their parents and Jason happily agreed with this idea.  

 Then with the housework and lunch finished, Esther and Ruth went and had a fun filled time laughing at themselves every time their balls went in the gutter or cheering for the times they actually hit the pins.  After a time of practicing, they all started to improve.

 During a rest time, Felix mentioned, “Thank you for being so understanding on Thursday evening, Esther.  Nathan and I were able to talk about the situation some more and he gave me some of his great counsel.  I assume you filled Ruth in on what happened when you got home.”

 She replied, Yes, we had a good debriefing session.”

 He continued, “Then Nathan and I remembered about what you said at the skating place about not being able to give birth.  We thought we could suggest becoming foster parents if we decide we want to have children.”

 Nathan continued, “Yes, this is a topic I’ve been wanting to discuss since Thursday evening.  For several years I’ve noticed how the world and our country have been declining and I decided I didn’t want to bring more children into this kind of world.  So when you told us about your problem I was relieved, although I do sympathize with you about your feelings.  I already know I’d like to have children, but only foster children who’ve been abused.  How do you feel about having foster children, Esther?”

 She responded, “Well, whenever I’ve thought about how I could be a mother, I wondered how adopting might work, but I had serious misgivings about doing it.  Foster children would also be a big responsibility, but I know there are many children who need to be in a foster home with caring parents to help them.  I feel like a married couple would need to be certain that being foster parents is what God wants them to do.”

 They continued bowling some more, and when they started to wind down, Esther invited them to her parents’ house for dinner the coming Friday evening at 6PM.  They accepted.

 When Esther and Ruth got home and were fixing supper later, Ruth observed, “That was an interesting discussion you three had at the bowling alley today.”

 “It definitely was,” responded Esther.  “I think I understood that Felix is not sure about even wanting children but Nathan does, if they are foster children who are being rescued from an abusive situation.”

 Ruth nodded and said, “I understood the same thing.  So how do you really feel about being a foster parent?”

 She replied, “I didn’t really answer Nathan, I think I just rambled on and I don’t even remember what I said.  I’m scared about the big responsibility and have no idea how to help children who’ve been abused.  Nathan studied counseling at the university, and I’m sure he has many ideas and ways to help them.  On the other hand, Felix was abused, and might have his own fears about becoming an abusive parent because his own dad set such a bad example.  I can see this is something I’ll need to pray about a lot before they ask me any more questions.  Jesus, my master, please give me wisdom and show me your will about whether to become a foster parent or not.”

 Ruth continued, “I agree.  Please give that same wisdom to Felix and Nathan, and show them your will about this issue also.  It’s a huge decision to make either way.  It could even be a deciding factor about which man would make the better husband.”

 Esther added, “Furthermore, it could be pointing out that neither would be a good choice unless you convince me that being a foster mother is your perfect will for me.  I really would need you to remove the fears I have about it and give me peace.  We pray in your precious name and trust you to show the way. Amen.”

 After a moment, she continued, “Ruth, you said it could be a deciding factor about the man I’d choose.  Do you have an opinion about which one would be better from what they said?”

 Ruth replied, “I do, Esther, but I won’t tell you because this is something you need to figure out with Jesus’ help.  I might be wrong, and therefore I don’t want to influence your decision.”

 Oh,” said Esther with a sigh.  “This whole thing is getting more and more complicated as time goes on.  I guess when you have three individuals who are 27 years old, each one has a lot of baggage to bring into any relationship they might try to have.  It might be a good idea for me to just stay single like you decided for yourself.  It sure would be simpler, but somehow I think there might be a lot I’d miss out on having and doing with the right man.  What a puzzle this is!”

 Ruth acknowledged, “It surely is!  Do you remember the class at the university about opportunity cost?  They had us make a chart with the choices for a certain topic we needed to decide about, and then list all the pro’s and con’s for each choice, and put the cost, not just in money, of selecting each one.  Maybe if you’d do that for this issue it might bring things into better focus for you.”

 Esther said, “Yes, I remember that class, and I like your suggestion.  I’ll do it right after supper cleanup and pray some more about the whole situation.”

 

 When Vera got home from church Sunday, she said, “Walt and Betty talked to me right after the service today and told me they’d probably be ready with the plans and estimate by next Saturday.  I invited them to come at 9:30 so we can have plenty of time to listen and ask questions before I serve them lunch.  I can have something baking slowly in the oven, so I won’t need to watch it.  I’m so excited!

 Wow, I am too!  While we wait the rest of this week, we should have time to do some of the things we mentioned last week,” Oscar observed.

 

 In Pine City Esther prayed and worked on her opportunity cost chart, off and on Sunday before and after church.  She also did a web search about being foster parents and learned a lot.  She wrote down all the facts that seemed important to her.  Then she went in search of her big sister to discuss what she had learned.

 Ruth, I’ve just finished taking notes on a lot of information about being foster parents.  I’ll read some of it to you.  It can be very hard work and time consuming, but it also can be very rewarding.  There’s a great need for more foster homes in our country.  Most foster children need much attention and care, so parents need extra patience and compassion.”

 “Those are interesting facts, Esther,” stated Ruth.

 “Yes, and it goes on to say it’s not a permanent commitment like adoption is.  Foster parents are able to choose the age and gender they prefer.  The process is affordable because foster parents receive a tax free stipend to help pay for clothes, food, and school supplies.  The amount varies from state to state.”

 How long do the children stay with a family?” Ruth inquired.

 “Some foster children only stay a few months, but others are long term placements who stay with a family until they become adults.  This gives them consistency and a feeling of belonging.  Also since many children have serious issues, parents are able to call the social worker if they feel they aren’t able to provide for a child placed with them.  So I guess that means we wouldn’t be stuck with one we couldn’t handle,” Esther finished.

 How do you feel about those details?” asked Ruth.

 “Well, they do help me to not be as scared about being a foster parent.  It goes on to give the pros and cons of foster care so I entered them into a chart like I made for the other choices I have.  I haven’t reached any conclusions yet, but I needed a break and wanted to share some of this with you,” said Esther.

 Thank you, it is interesting.  I didn’t know you’d be taking another university course and doing homework for this adventure.  But I think you’ll learn some valuable things,” Ruth remarked.

 Esther nodded and laughed as she went back to finish her search on the web.

 

 At the Ranch, Vera had called Unice and made an appointment to talk with her Monday morning at 9 AM.  So they went to the office in her little cabin and Vera and Oscar explained their plans.

 Then Oscar asked, “Would you like to remain here and work as the Vet and FNP for Mercy Valley Ranch when it’s changed into foster homes for abused girls?”

 Unice considered for a very short time and replied, “Oh yes, I really would like to keep working here.  Plus, the opportunity to help abused girls appeals to me a lot.  You see, I was taken out of an abusive situation when I was ten years old, and wonderful Christian parents took me in as a foster child.  They taught me about Jesus and he saved me, healed all my hurts, and restored me.  My foster parents were able to recognize my gifts and abilities.  They directed my energies into studying the things that would help me become what I am today.”

 Vera exclaimed, “I would never have guessed you had come from such a background!  You’re always so full of joy and peace.”

 Unice responded, “Jesus does an excellent job when the children come to him.  There’s a song sung by Michael Card called ‘Let the Children Come.’  It has some meaningful lyrics.”

 Yes it really does.” agreed Oscar.  “I like it a lot.”

 Unice declared, “So, let the children come to Mercy Valley Ranch where we’ll all do our best to bring them to Jesus for salvation and the healing of their wounds!”

 

 In Pine City on Monday evening, Jeff and Karen Spencer arrived at the home of Ian and Yolanda Hopkins about 6:45 PM so they could get the Bibles and Hymnals set up on the chairs and have time to pray and then visit with the host couple before the other members arrived for the Monday small group.  The Hopkins’ two foster children, Sara and Candy, attended all the small group meetings with their foster parents because it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave them at home alone or send them to a friend’s house.  So they joined in, with the prayer time and visiting.

 The other members arrived right on time at 7 PM.  Jeff opened the meeting with prayer and then asked if there were any praise reports.  Nathan was first.  “We praise the Lord, that when our four by four group went to the mall on Thursday evening, we were able to call the authorities, who came and put a stop to some parental abuse of two young children.”

 Yolanda was next.  “Ian and I and our two girls went as a four by four group to the ice skating rink on Saturday afternoon and we were able to speak to a couple who looked depressed.  They were glad to let us pray with them.”

 Candy added, “While they did that, Sara and I got to witness to a girl from my class at school who was there skating, and she listened very well.  My friend, Mindy Jones, and I ate lunch with her and another girl today at school and we got to tell them some more about our testimonies.”

 Esther shared, “A couple weeks ago I got to go to the butterfly pavilion and it was a wonderful place to praise our awesome creator for his amazing creation.  If you know of anyone who needs to be convinced that God created everything, that might be a good place to take them.”

 Ian continued, “I just want to thank God again that since the middle of April last year, Yolanda and I have been able to work at Discount Mart the same hours as when our girls are in school so we can all get home at about the same time.”

 Does any one else have a praise?” asked Jeff.  “If not let’s clap and praise our great God for the ones we’ve heard.”  After finishing the collective praise time he asked if there were any announcements.  There weren’t, so he got volunteers to host the next meeting.

 This week they sang “I Stand in Awe,” Psalm 33:8,9; “Teach me to Pray,” Luke 11:1-4,9;  “Speak, Lord, in the Stillness,” Romans 8:26,27; and “Seeking the Lost,” Luke 15:4,5 and 19:10.

 The teaching time started with Jeff saying, “Esther’s praise about our awesome Creator, goes really well with the first song we sang this evening.  Let’s look at the scripture verses that go with that song, Psalm 33:8,9.  Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him, for he spoke and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.  It appears that the writer of this psalm was convinced that the LORD was the creator of everything and only he deserves the fear or reverence and awe that the people he made should give to him.

 Part of the next song and scripture verses go extremely well with last week’s teaching about two by two and four by four ministries.  Look at verse 2 in that song again, and notice how well it goes with two by two ministries.  The title for “Teach me to Pray” comes from Luke 11:1-4 where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.  I’m pretty sure all of us have memorized the prayer he taught them.  In verse 9, he goes on to say,... Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.  What an extraordinary promise this is for us.

 “Our third song goes well with the whole idea of prayer.  If we’re spending time with our master then he will speak to us, not only in our own quiet times of prayer but also when we go out for our ministry times.  Find Romans 8:26,27 and follow along as I read, The Spirit helps our weakness, for we do not know what or how we should pray.  But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us … and he who searches the heart knows the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.  I’m so thankful for this promise.”  Then Jeff asked, “Who are the saints mentioned in verse 27?”

 Sunny answered, “Saints are all of us and all people who believe in Jesus to be their Savior.’”

 Candy said uncertainly, “Really?  I always thought saints were only those people in the Bible pictured with halos around their heads, and others that the church said were saints.”

 Karen responded, “I think those pictures and that church give us a mistaken idea of who saints are.  If we read the Bible carefully we’ll see that Sunny’s correct.  Many of the letters Paul wrote were addressed to the saints or believers in the cities he had visited.  The people in those cities listened to him preach the Good News and they believed in Jesus to save them, and Paul called them saints.”

 Nathan added, “Exactly, just like it says in Philippians 1:1, Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus, to all the saints in Jesus which are at Philippi…

 Jeff said, “Thank you all for your answers and comments.  I’m so glad we are saints, and we can know that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  Besides that, Jesus himself intercedes for us, as I paraphrased Romans 8:34b.  This knowledge can be a wonderful comfort to all of us, especially when we’re praying to know God’s will or we’re asking him to guide us in our ministries.

 “Our last song is mostly about going out to find and bring lost people to Jesus so he can save them.  It goes with Luke 15:4,5, If a man loses one of his hundred sheep, he will leave the ninety-nine and go after it until he finds it.  When he has found it he will lay it on his shoulders rejoicing.  This is a good picture of Jesus, our good shepherd.  Then in Luke 19:10, it says, (Jesus) came to seek and to save that which was lost.  He sent his disciples and us to go do the same things he did.  It’s a great privilege and also a big responsibility, because if we don’t do it, who will?

 Find the last song and let’s read the words of verse two and three as a prayer out loud together to start our prayer time.  When they had finished the song, Felix prayed,  “Father in heaven, please speak to couples who have no children of their own, and give them the desire to become foster parents.”

 Sunny added, “I agree, and I thank you for the people in our church who are already being good foster parents.  May your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.”

 Jeff prayed, “Thank you that the new churches are all off to a good start, and we ask you to continue to guide in everything that’s said and done so we can keep growing like we were doing last year.  Send us out in our two by two and four by four groups to do the things Jesus did when he was here on earth, and may the miracles bring many people into your church.”

 Other prayers were added in agreement with that one, and during the refreshment time Jeff talked to Felix and Nathan and said, “There are two foster children in our group who came out of abusive families, so we need to be careful what we say and pray so they won’t be reminded of bad memories.  They’re both doing very well, but still need a lot of healing and restoration.  The things you said today aren’t a problem, but we all need to be extra careful where they are concerned.”

 Nathan responded, “Thank you for telling us about this fact.  We will both be exceedingly cautious in the future.”

 Felix added, “I understand because I’ve been there too.  We’ll continue to pray at home about this need.”

 That’s a great idea.  Karen and I will also pray at home, in agreement with you.  It is a big need.  Thank you both for being so understanding.” Jeff said with relief.  “I’m sorry you had to go through that when you were growing up, Felix.”

 Felix responded, “Thank you, Jeff.  Jesus is good at healing and restoring.”

 

  Tuesday at home after supper, Ruth said, “Esther, you told me what Nathan and Felix had praised God for and prayed for at your small group meeting last night.  It got me to thinking.  Have you ever considered that maybe you are in this situation for such a time as this, as it says in Esther 4:14b?”

 Esther responded, Actually, I’ve read that whole story in the Bible many times and each time, I’ve told myself that I could never be in a position like Esther was in when Mordecai urged her to go see the king and try to get him to save the Jews.  The king could have had her killed instantly since he hadn’t called explicitly to see her.”

 Have you ever heard the song Evie Karlsson and her daughter sang called, ‘I Want to be a Woman Like Esther’?” Ruth asked.

 No, tell me about it please,” Esther requested.

 Well I can’t remember all the words, but the idea is just to be willing to do whatever God asks you to do even if it might seem like it could be to sacrifice your life as you might want it to be.”

 Oh, I get the idea.  It’s really like it says in Romans 12:1b,2.  Present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.  That’s really what Esther did isn’t it?  I’m glad I’m not in such a precarious position as she was.  So I’ll tell God I’m willing to do whatever he says for me to do, and then trust him to make his will completely clear to me.”

 Ruth nodded and smiled.  Then they both went on about the business of getting the laundry ready so they could take it to the laundry room in their apartment complex.

 

 Like they had talked about last week, Oscar and Vera had their lawyer, who was also their financial planner, come to their house at the ranch for lunch and then a planning session on Wednesday.  He was a devoted believer, so they were able to trust and rely on him.

 When they finished explaining what they wanted to have done, he understood and gave them an outline of the things that would need to be changed in their will.  He said it would be easy to make a living trust for their investments and the ranch to take care of all the things they had explained to him about their project.

 They ended their time together with prayer.  A few days later he brought all the documents for them to read and ask questions.  When they were satisfied that they understood and agreed with everything, they signed in all the proper places.  Now they were legally prepared to go ahead with their project for the girls’ homes at Mercy Valley Ranch.

  

 In Pine City the phone rang Wednesday after they got home from work and Ruth answered it.

 Later she mentioned, Esther, Mom called and asked what we want to have for dinner on Friday evening.  I told her we’d decide and bring all the ingredients with us so we can all cook it together right after work.”

 Okay.  Let’s make it something easy and fast since we only have an hour between the end of work and when they arrive.  How about precooked skinless chicken breasts that have marinated and cooked for hours in the big slow cooker we seldom use.  If we put little new potatoes and baby carrots and pearl onions in with them they’ll all be ready by six o’clock.  We can take the ingredients for a tossed salad like Sunny made for us, and our many choices of salad dressing.  We can prepare the salad and have time to set the table when we get there,” Esther suggested.

 I like your idea.  We’ll shop tomorrow right after work and we can get most of the things ready after supper so we can quickly put them in the cooker in the morning before we leave for work and set its timer to come on at noon so it’ll have six hours to cook.  Since the chicken’s already precooked, we won’t have to worry about it contaminating the veggies.  What shall we serve for dessert?” she asked.

 Well, I noticed they both got banana cream pie for dessert at the buffet restaurant.  The frozen section of the grocery store has those already made.  Shall we get two?  They can be thawing out in our refrigerator overnight and during the next day.”

 Jason likes it also.  You’re full of good ideas.  It sounds pretty easy the way you planned it.  Thank you, Esther.”

 You’re welcome, Ruth.  I appreciate all you’re doing for me on this adventure and I’m trying to make it easier for you.”

 You’re doing a great job, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy the evening with our parents, Jason, the good food, and the board game.  Plus, I won’t even need to be in the role of a double dater that evening,” said Ruth as she left the room so she could get ready to go to her own small group meeting.

 

 Thursday after supper and cleanup were finished Karen said to Jeff, “Honey, I know you and I decided, and we still agree that it’s best for us to not bring any new children into this messed up world.  Since Monday, after hearing Felix’s prayer, I’ve been wondering if we might be able to be good foster parents to some needy children.  How do you feel about this topic?”

 He replied, “It might be another way we could serve our Savior.  Let’s pray about it and do some research on the web.  Maybe we could talk to Ian and Yolanda Hopkins, Sara and Candy’s foster parents, about it.  It looks like they’re doing a good job.”

 Karen agreed, “I think your idea’s a good one.  Let’s pray together now, and then I’ll start researching this evening.”

 

 Tomo Suehiro called his identical twin brother, Afta, who lives in a city in the eastern United States.

 “Hello, Afta, this is Tomo.  How are you and your family doing?”

 Ah, Tomo, it’s so good to hear your voice, which sounds just like mine and my son, Denji’s,” they both laughed.  “We’re all doing very well.”  Then he called loudly, “Hana, Dear, and Denji, come join me and Tomo, who is on the phone.”

 They came quickly saying, “Hi, Tomo,” and “Hi, Uncle Tomo.”

 Tomo replied, “Hi, Hana and Denji.  I’m glad to hear that all of you are doing well.  We are also, and we are all here on the phone by using the speaker.”

 Ami, Aneko, and Yoshi all added their greetings and then Ami stated, “I wish you were all right here in our living room at this exact minute!  We enjoyed your visit so much the last time you were here.”

 Hana responded, “We did also, and we’ll look forward to the next time we can come for a visit or you can all come here.”

 Indeed,” Tomo replied, “maybe someday we’ll get a motorhome and be able to drive there.  It would sure beat flying.”

 Ami laughed, and stated, “It sure would, but I doubt if it’ll ever happen.”  Then she asked, “How’s your sister and her family, Hana?”

 “They’re fine,” replied Hana.  As you remember, her boy and girl are the same ages as yours, except that the boy’s the older one in this case.”

 Tomo agreed, “Yes, we do remember.  Maybe someday that family can come for a visit at the same time you do, so all of us can meet them even though they aren’t blood relatives.

 But they are still part of our extended family,” added Ami.

 Hana exclaimed, “Yes, and now all of us are part of God’s forever family since everybody in all of our extended families have become believers!”

 Absolutely,” agreed Tomo.  “It’s a great blessing to know that all of us will spend eternity together in Heaven.”

 Yes it is!”  Then Afta inquired, “Aneko and Yoshi, are you still liking your jobs in your parents’ restaurant?”

 “Yes, very much,” Aneko responded. “It beats anything we ever tried in the other city where we lived for a while.”

 Yoshi added, “Yes, and besides, it’s ever so nice to be back home, especially now that we’re all believers.  It’s like it says in Ephesians 2:4a, God, who is rich in mercy and great love, made us alive with Jesus by grace …”

 For sure!” went on Aneko, “it makes all the difference in the world.  I didn’t really start living until Jesus saved me.”

 Yoshi agreed, It’s the same for me!”  Then he asked, “Denji, how are things going for you?”

 “I’m so excited to get to tell you all,” he responded.  “When I returned to school after we got back home from my stay in the hospital, my friends who had also been in that accident, had a hard time believing my story.  So after several futile months of trying to convince them, I invited all of them to come to my house for supper.  I had asked Dad and Mom to tell them my story about how the hospital was sending me home blind, with a white cane, and I was still learning how to use it in a park in Pine City when your dad and mom found us there.  That day, Jesus restored my vision when they prayed for me and then Jesus saved all three of us.  Dad and Mom told the facts just like I had.

 They had to believe him then,” stated Afta, “because they knew we’re honest people.”

 Hana continued, “We told them the Good News like you told us and asked them if they’d like to accept Jesus also.  They all did and we were glad to lead them in prayer.”

 After a time of praise and thanksgiving, Tomo exclaimed, “It’s so wonderful when one miracle can result in so many people becoming believers!

 “Yes,” Ami went on to say, “Indeed, I think that’s one of the purposes for miracles.  In the Bible most of the time when Jesus or the apostles did a miracle, a lot of the people who saw the miracle became believers.”

 “You're right,” agreed Afta.  “We’ve been reading the Gospels and Acts, and that happened over and over.”

 Tomo mentioned, “Yes, it’s amazing to realize that happened almost two thousand years ago and Jesus is still the same, like it says in Hebrews 13:8, and he will be the same forever!”

 Aneko added, “Absolutely!  Moreover, we’re privileged to get to love and serve him.”

 Hana agreed, “Yes we are!  It’s been so nice talking with all of you.  But we need to get ready to leave for an appointment, so we better say goodbye for now.  We love you all!”

 Ami stated, “We love you all too.  We’ll talk again next time!”

 

 Friday after work Ruth and Esther hurried home to change into more casual clothes.  The house smelled delectable because the slow cooker had done its job well.  Esther tasted it to be sure it was good enough to take, although she had no idea what to do if there was something wrong with it, but it was great.  They had a special carrier to help keep it warm during transit to things like potlucks.  It took both of them, one on each side to get it down to, and loaded into the car.  Then they went back to get the rest of the dinner.  Since Esther had a list, she even remembered dessert.

 When they got to the family home, their dad and Jason came out to help carry things into the house.  Jason easily carried the main course into the house by himself, and Ruth thought, “Oh to be strong like a man!  But that’s the only way I’d like to be like a man.”  She and Esther and their dad took the rest in one trip.

 Anna commented, “Whatever you fixed smells delicious and like it’s ready to be eaten.  We’ll plug this in to keep it warm.  This was a good idea since we don’t have a lot of time before the men arrive.  It’ll be interesting to see them again.  We never really got acquainted because you young people were usually outside having fun of some kind.  I wonder if I’ll even recognize them.”

 Esther responded, “I think you will, especially since you know their names already.  They have just filled out, muscled up, and gotten more handsome.”

 “It sounds like you’re already enamored.  But you can’t have two husbands, you know,” Anna remarked playfully.

 Esther laughed and gave her mother a hug.  “You couldn’t be more right, but so far they’ve both passed all the tests and I get so I like them more as I get to know them better.  What if I keep liking both of them and can’t ever decide?” she asked, trying to keep her face serious, but she burst out laughing instead.

 I’m glad you’re able to have fun with this.” Anna smiled.

 Esther responded, I’m glad also.  Most of the time it is fun.”

 Ruth interrupted, Mom, do you have one of your pretty dried flower bouquets we could use as a centerpiece for the table?”

 Anna answered, “Yes.  I’ll go get it while you two set the table.  Then we can make the salad.  Put the dressings in the refrigerator until time to eat.  It’s nice to have you two here today.”

 “Thanks Mom, it’s our pleasure!” they replied.

 After the salad was made the family had a few minutes to visit before the men arrived.  They relaxed and were glad they had chosen an easy meal for this evening.  The men got there on time and no introductions were needed.

 Jason commented, “You both look great.  It’s been a long time.”  

 William said, “Nathan and Felix, it’s good to see you again.  Please come visit in the living room while the ladies put the food on the buffet.  How did your jobs go for you today?”  Esther hushed her mom and sister so she could hear their answers.

 Felix answered, “Mine went very well.  At the farm we’re busy doing repairs on various tools, equipment and machinery so they’ll be ready to use just as soon as it warms up enough to start preparing the soil for planting.  I’m thankful they have enough work to keep me busy through the winter, and I don’t have to look for a different job until planting time.”

 Nathan explained, “I feel the same way about my job.  I couldn’t like it any better, especially on a day like today when I got to ride two horses.  They hadn’t been ridden in a while, so they were both a little jumpy at first.  I put them through their paces in the round pen before mounting up.  They settled right down.  I like the other things I get to do at the ranch also.  How was your job today?”

 Probably not as interesting or active as either of yours, but the day was fine.  Numbers are usually very well behaved.  It’s the people I have to deal with, who sometimes don’t bring all the information with them that I need to do my job,” William replied.

 Anna came to the living room right then and said, “Everything’s ready.  Please come and eat.”

 When everyone was seated, William prayed, “Father in heaven we thank you that Felix and Nathan and the rest of our family can be at our table this evening.  Thank you for this food and the hands that prepared it.  Please bless it to our bodies and our time together.  I pray in Jesus precious name.  Amen.”

 Everybody added an amen and then Esther explained, “Now since the slow cooker’s too heavy to pass around, let’s go serve ourselves at the buffet.  You can get your salad and choice of dressing at the same time.  Feel free to go back for seconds or thirds when you’re ready, but save some room for dessert.”

 They enjoyed eating and visiting about various things.  Nathan and Felix asked some good questions of William and Anna in order to get to know them better, and of course they gave several compliments about the delicious food, including the dessert.

 Esther decided that the meal was a success and was greatly pleased when Felix offered, “I remember how everyone would help with cleaning up after meals at the dude ranch.  I hope we can do the same thing here.”  Nathan agreed and they all made short work of that detail.

 The board game was set up on the cleaned off dining room table.  Since everyone already knew how to play it, no time was wasted reading the directions and rules.  It was a fast moving, fun game with a lot of competition, and of course only one winner each time through.  Since all the players were good sports there was also lots of laughter.  Nathan and Felix passed all the tests of the evening with high marks although they didn’t know they were taking tests.  They just enjoyed the good meal, the fun of the game, visiting, and getting to know Esther and her family better.

 

 On Saturday, Walt and Betty arrived at the ranch with a different dessert for lunch at 9:30 AM as planned.  It was a gorgeous blue sky day and the scenery was at its best, with a blanket of new snow on the ground making everything seem fresh and clean.  Even the trees were decorated.

 Welcome, Walt and Betty,” said Oscar.  “Come right in here where it’s warm.  Don’t worry about your wet shoes.  Our vinyl flooring won’t care and the puddles will soon dry.”

 Vera invited, “Let’s start in the dining room with a cup of cherry tea with honey to sweeten it.”  They got settled and she asked,  “Did you notice how nicely Nathan cleaned the snow off the lake so our guests can ice skate if they want to today or tomorrow?”

 Walt replied, “Yes, it looks really smooth.  We met Nathan and his friend Felix at church and they seem like nice young men.  Does Nathan work here for you?”

 Yes,” answered Vera.  “He’s a good worker and has been working here since the first week in September.  Felix came in October and works for my brother at the Valley Truck Farm.  They are both nice, and used to come here as guests of our dude ranch until they were out of high school.  How are you Betty?”

 She shared, I’m overwhelmed with the beauty of this valley and the majestic mountains with new snow on them.  Even the snowflakes are amazing to me because each one is different and so intricately put together.  I’m really interested in all of God’s creation now that I’m a believer.  I wasted so much of my life believing the erroneous teachings about evolution on TV and videos.  How could anyone look at the variety and complexity of this world and the universe and think they could have gotten here by chance?”

 We agree completely!” exclaimed Vera, and started them singing all four verses of “How Great Thou Art.”

 When they finished, Oscar stated, “We make a good quartet.  It’s ever so good to begin our morning with praise to our great creator.”

 Yes it is, and now to give us a stretch, shall we each carry our cup to the sink, and then Walt can spread his plans out on the table?” Vera suggested.  She and Oscar were excited to see the plans, but didn’t want to rush their guests.

 Walt had floor plans for the small cabins with two bedrooms and a bathroom and laundry room added on one end, and a garage with storage added to the back side of each cabin.  There would be a door from the kitchen into the garage to make shopping days easier.  There would also be garages with storage room added to each of the large cabins in the same manner.  When everything was finished, including the larger cabins and big house, there would be homes for ten Caring Foster Families with four girls apiece.

 The upper story of the big house would have a stairway inside its wider one car garage with a door into the upper kitchen.  This would be in addition to the main outside stairway already going up to the game room.  A locking door would give entrance to the sitting room that would become the living room.  The door into the kitchen would be a much nicer entry on cold, snowy or windy days.

 These plans are excellent.  You were able to include everything we talked about plus some improvements we didn’t think about.  I really like having the bathroom and laundry room come before the bedrooms in the small cabins.  It makes the hallway shorter, and the bedrooms larger, just like in the bigger cabins,” commented Oscar.  

 “With two girls in each bedroom they’ll need to learn how to share the bathroom and leave the other bathroom already in the cabin for the use of the parents,” said Vera.

 It’s a good idea to have the closets across the whole end wall with no windows.  There should be plenty of room for clothes.”  

 Yes, Oscar,” remarked Vera, “and each room is large enough for two twin beds, two dressers, and two desks with study chairs.  Walt, I’m glad you drew the furniture into the plan so we could see how it fits.”

 Thank you, notice that each room has a large easily opened window just like the big cabins, to use for a fire escape if it’s ever needed,” added Walt.

 Oscar exclaimed, “What a good and necessary idea since the doors of the cabins are at the other end!”

 I really like the plan for our Caring Foster Home.  Look, Oscar, this extra guest room we have with it’s own bathroom on the end of the house by the downstairs game room, is right next to the library in the game room.  It’ll make a wonderful sewing room where I can teach our girls how to sew if they want to learn.  Other mothers could bring their girls to use the library in the game room, and since we can leave the door to the game room open, one of them could also make use of the sewing room at the same time if they’d like,” explained Vera.

 Wonderful, and I like the way our bedroom and bathroom, kitchen, pantry, dining room, living room, office, and laundry stay just the way they are right now,” observed Oscar.

 Vera continued, “Our girls bedrooms and bathrooms will be just like the ones in all the cabins. The same thing happens upstairs.  There will be no chance for the rest of the girls to be jealous of those living in the big house.”

 Next Walt showed them the materials list, including all the plumbing, bathroom fixtures, cupboards, and even the furniture for the new bedrooms in the cabins.  The big house and big cabins already had twin beds for the girls since the king-sized beds in those rooms were really just two twin beds pushed together.  They just needed desks and chairs for the desks.  The list also included the appliances, sink, cupboards, and counters for the upstairs kitchen plus all that would be needed for the upstairs laundry room.

 Walt explained, “You’ll notice that I left the rest rooms in both game rooms as they were and the extra guest room upstairs as it was.  The family who will live there can figure out what they’d like to do with that room.”

 Oscar responded, “Perfect, Walt, these plans are extremely well done.  I can’t think of anything else that needs to be added, but possibly we should keep them here overnight so we can see if there’s anything we might like to change.  Could Betty bring them to you at church tomorrow?”
 “Of course.  It truly is a smart idea to make any changes before we actually start remodeling.  And did you notice that I listed the estimated cost at the bottom of the list?  Pray about whether you want my company to do the work,” added Walt.

 Oscar and Vera looked at each other, smiled and nodded.  Oscar replied, “Yes, we noticed the estimated cost, and we’ve already prayed about it and we know we’d like your company to do the work.  When can you get started?”

 Walt laughed.  “You two don’t waste any time!  My crew and Matt’s crew should both be finished with the remodels we’re doing in about two weeks.  That would give you time to get the building permit, and me time to make the blueprints.  You can keep these plans since they are a copy, and take them to get the building permit.  When I have the final blueprints finished, I’ll take a copy to them.  They’re used to doing it this way.”

 “Since it’s still winter, your crews could start with the upstairs remodel and when that’s finished we could camp out up there until you’re finished down here,” suggested Oscar.  We only have enough reservations to fill three rooms, so it will work.”

 Yes, that should work very well,” agreed Walt.

 Vera interrupted, “While you two men finish talking about any other details, Betty and I will go finish getting lunch ready.”

 Oscar replied, “Thank you ladies for your good idea.”

 In the kitchen, Vera exclaimed, “I’m so excited about the remodels and additions, and it’s almost unbelievable that he will be able to start so soon!  Thank you, Lord, for getting it started.”

 Betty said, I understand a little bit how you feel, and I’m so happy for you.  Before long you’ll be able to see your idea become reality.  It really is exciting”

 Thank you, Betty.  It’s nice to have a woman to talk with who understands and can share my joy.” said Vera.

 She replied, “I feel the same way.  Maybe Walt and I can come meet your girls after you and they get used to being a family.”

 Vera exclaimed, “That’s a great idea!  We’ll invite you to come some Saturday afternoon as soon as we can.”

 

 Saturday’s four by four ministry at the mall in Pine City started with another child abuse case interrupted by the ladies who were in the lead.  This time it was a mother doing the abuse, mostly yelling things no child should ever have to hear, pinching, slapping and pushing the toddlers to make them sit down inside the shopping cart.  Esther felt like she wanted to rush over there to tell her to quit.  Instead, she followed Nathan’s example, went into the nearest isle and called the authorities.  They immediately came and took the mother and her children to a room in the store.

 The ministry group went out into the mall to talk and pray for the family.  Esther said, “I’m thankful we were here to help those children.  It’s sad to think of the many times there’s nobody to see and report this kind of behavior.”

 Nathan responded, “I agree.  At least we were able to help the children in two families so far.  I know it doesn’t seem like much, but we do what we can.  That’s all God asks us to do.”

 After they had prayed Felix suggested, “Let’s go back in there and see who else we can help.”  So the ladies followed the men and all of them continued to pray as they shopped being alert to whatever God wanted them do.  In a short time, they saw a different mother pulling her first and second grade sons along the isle by their ears.

 Tears of pain were streaming down their faces, but they knew better than to make any noise for fear of being hurt more.  Felix quickly called this time and the authorities came speedily.  The mother immediately let go of their ears and pretended to comfort the children.  But they took her and the children with them.

 After praying for that family, Sunny said, “We’ll try one more time in there and see what happens this time.”  The ladies went first and after about fifteen minutes, they all froze.  Two cute six-year-old twin girls were cowering in fear as their dad took off his belt and began to strike them.  Sunny rapidly called, and the man was taken one way while the girls were led away in the other.

 Out in the mall, the group prayed yet again and then decided it was time to go home.

 When she got home Esther described to Ruth all that happened and exclaimed, “This can’t be a coincidence!  I think Jesus is trying to convince me that I need to be a foster mother to get at least one abused child into a caring home.”

 Ruth replied, “I think you must be right, and just think, you and your group were able to stop three more abuses before they got really bad.  Hopefully those children will be removed from those houses and put into caring foster homes while their parents are given counseling and training if they want the chance to get their children back and be good parents.”

 Yes, let’s pray for that to happen.  Now I just need to choose the correct husband to be the foster father of that child or those children if he wants us to care for more than one.  I’ll keep praying and working on the chart.  I know Jesus will guide me and make it clear in his time,” Esther stated.

 

 Monday evening after small group Felix called the ladies,Hi, Esther and Ruth, this is Felix and Nathan.  Would you like to go with us to the recreation center right after work on Thursday so we can walk on their inside course and get some exercise before we go out to dinner at Ami’s Japanese Restaurant?”

 Both ladies answered in unison, “Yes, we like your idea!”

 Good, we’ll pick you up at 5:30 then.”  Esther said they’d be ready and they all said, “Goodbye.”

 Then Felix asked Nathan to stay seated so they could have time to talk.  He explained, “Nathan, I’ve finally come to the realization that I love Esther more like a sister than as a girlfriend and potential wife.  Just yesterday I realized that’s the reason I want to tease her.  She’s so much like my sister who is older than I am, except Esther doesn’t enjoy being teased, and my sister does.  I’m under constant stress trying to not even joke or have fun for fear she’ll think it’s teasing, and then she won’t like me.  I can’t be myself when I’m around her, and I know this is never going to work for a relationship with her.  How can I tell her and not hurt her feelings in the process?  I feel terrible about this.”

 Felix, you don’t need to feel terrible about this.  It’s truly a good realization for you, for me, and for Esther also.  You can explain it to her like you did to me just now.  I think she’ll understand,” encouraged Nathan.

 Thanks, Nathan, you are the best friend a guy could hope to have.  You’ll let me gracefully bow out of our project and not even make fun of me for not knowing my own heart all this time.  I’ll be sure to cheer you on as you continue to win Esther’s love.”

 Thank you, Felix.  I value your friendship a lot, and I’ll be praying that you will soon find just the right lady who is perfectly suited to your fun loving personality to be your wife.”

 

 The second week in February was colder than normal, but Oscar still went to town on Tuesday to see if he could get the building permit.  There weren’t very many other people out on this cold morning so he didn’t have to wait in line.  Walt had given him some helpful hints on Saturday after lunch, so he knew just what to say and how to explain the project to the county office.  They listened well and soon he had written the check for the building permit and left.

 When he arrived home, he and Vera had a victory dance around the kitchen.  Another hurdle in their marathon was successfully jumped.  Now all they had to do was wait patiently for the work crews to come and get to work upstairs.  It might be dusty and noisy, but it would be worth it.

 

 Thursday the ladies were ready, wearing walking shoes and attractive slacks with casual blouses that would be appropriate for exercising and for dinner at the Suehiros restaurant.  The men worked it out so Esther got to walk and converse with each of them for half of the time and the dinner was delicious of course.

 Near the end of this double date, Felix finally got up his courage enough to admit his realization to Esther and she listened carefully to him all the way through.

 After a few moments of careful contemplation she responded, “Felix, I appreciate your honesty immensely.  I’ve been noticing a tension of some kind in you and I’ve wondered what was causing it.  I think I can understand how you feel.  It’s too hard to keep trying to be someone you’re not.  I’m sorry you had to go through all that stress in order to let me choose.  You are a courageous gentleman and I know you’ll make some other lady a wonderful husband.  I am honored by your efforts, and I hope we’ll still be able to consider each other as a friend.”

 He replied, “Thank you, Esther.  Nathan said you would understand and you do.  I’ll consider myself happy to continue to number you as one of my friends.  You are a real lady in every way.  I’ll be cheering Nathan on, and be praying for God’s will to be done as you two continue dating.”

 Nathan asked, Will you still be in our four by four group?”

 “Yes, but now I’ll be a friend instead of a suitor,” he replied.

 Esther inquired, “May I tell Sunny, so she’ll understand about the change in this relationship?”

 Yes, that’s a good idea,” Felix stated feeling immensely relieved, until he looked at Ruth who was crying.  “Ruth, what’s wrong?”

 She quickly dried her eyes and smiled.  “I’m just so proud of all of you.  Nobody had a harsh word to say and you’re all still friends.  I know that’s the way God would like it to be, but so many people in the world are easily upset and would turn something like this into a fight.  Keep up the good work, all of you.  May I ask a question?”  They all nodded so she continued, “Will you need me to continue going with you on dates, Nathan and Esther?”

 All four of them started laughing so hard they couldn’t stop.  It relieved the stress they had been feeling.  Then they enjoyed dessert, which was “fortune” cookies with scriptures inside.

 

 After supper on Friday, Esther called Sunny and turned the speaker on so Ruth could hear and add anything she might like to say.  “Hi, Sunny!  Ruth and I want to tell you something interesting that happened yesterday.”  She and Ruth then explained about their “double” date and everything that was said near the end of it.

 So, … let me see if I understand this.  It means that Ruth and I are no longer in the role of double daters, but that Felix will still be in our four by four ministry group.  I never had to be in my role anyway since we always ‘shopped’ in the store as two women or two men together.  As far as I can see things won’t change much for me.”

 Right, Sunny.  I just wanted to have you be aware that Felix has gracefully bowed out of the project and will be ‘cheering on’ his best friend Nathan.  They said something like that when they first explained their project.  Hey, now I don’t have to choose!  Oh Wow!  This is such a relief for me.  From now on, I can just concentrate on getting to know Nathan well enough to decide if he is the best husband for me.”

 Ruth added, “For me it’s a relief to be out of the role of a double dater.  Now I can go back to just being the big sister again.  I fit this role so much better.  Although I did learn a lot by this experience.  However,” she said with a sly smile, “now I’ll miss out on some fun dates to places I wouldn’t go alone and good food at some other expensive restaurants.”

 Oh, Ruth,” exclaimed Esther, adding to her sister’s witticism, “I didn’t realize you’d feel this way.  I’ll be glad to ask Nathan to let you come along with us as our chaperon!”  All three of them dissolved into laughter.  Sunny thanked them for the information and closed the conversation by saying she’d see Esther tomorrow afternoon for their group ministry time.

 Then Esther shared, “Ruth, you’re so much fun.  I do think I’ll miss having you accompany me and enjoy things along with me, but I guess that part of this adventure has ended.  The relief we both feel will be worth it.  As I think back on all the dates, and things I’ve learned about the two men, I’ll have to admit that I was beginning to lean toward liking Nathan better than Felix.  I’m immensely glad I won’t ever have to hurt Felix’s feelings by essentially telling him that fact by choosing Nathan instead of him.  Let’s pray that God will bring Felix just the right woman to be his wife.”

 They prayed for Felix and then for Nathan and Esther as they continued dating.  Afterward Esther filled several pages in her journal with the happenings and thoughts and things she had learned during the last couple weeks.

 Later the same evening she exclaimed, “Ruth, I realized as I was writing in my journal just a few minutes ago, that God chose the correct husband to be the foster father of that child or those children he convinced me HE wants us to parent!  I can’t imagine trying to find a better one than God already brought back into my life.  Nathan will be the best husband for me and we can joyfully work together for our wonderful Lord and Master, Jesus, in his restoration of the lives of those abused children!”

 “Wow, Esther this is amazing!  It all happened so quickly here in the last couple weeks.  The way he did it leaves no doubt about what God’s will is for you.  I'm very happy for you,” declared Ruth.

 Thank you, Ruth.  And remember, I’ll always appreciate how you helped and supported me during the first part of this adventure.  My investigation is over.  I no longer need to observe and compare and figure out who to choose, because Jesus did it for me!  Thank you, Jesus,” Esther prayed.  “It’s so much better this way, because you know the end and what is best for us.  I feared making a mistake that would have made me miserable for the rest of my life.  Since I know this is your will, I can go ahead with the rest of this adventure by faith knowing you are in control.”  

 

 Pastor Don and Anita Ross were talking after breakfast on Saturday.  She said, “Honey, I was wondering whether Mindy would be willing to come here again on Saturday mornings to do day care for the twins and Timmy and Mary.  They all enjoy each other so much, but it’s hard for us and the Fosters to make it work to get together for visiting and a time for the children to play.

 “What a wonderful idea, my dear wife.  God has given me an intelligent wife.  Would you like to call them about it, or shall I?”

 She replied, “I’ll be glad to call, Honey.  I’ll ask Mindy if she’d like to do it, and of course we’ll pay her like we did before.  She can ask her dad, Vern, and new mom, Lora, for their permission.”  

 Anita called Mindy, who said, “I’d be thrilled to do it.  My dad and mom are here right now so I’ll ask them if I may.”  

 Permission was soon granted, and the Saturday morning fun times began again for Joy, Hope, Timmy, and Mary with Mindy doing the day care again while their parents would go either for a couples time together, or a two by two ministry time, or Pastor Don and Anita would visit a couple of church families.

 

 On this Saturday afternoon their four by four ministry time was vastly different from the other two times.  Both Esther and Sunny had time to actually shop for something they needed.  Each one found the needed item and got it checked out before they noticed an older woman crying as she looked frantically through her purse.  They signaled for Nathan and Felix to pray for them while they went to see if they could assist her.

 She was mumbling as they approached, “Where are they?”

Sunny gently asked if they could help her, and she said, “I thought I put my keys back in my purse when I got out of the car, but now I can’t find them.  How will I ever get back home?”

 Esther handed her some tissues and suggested, “There’s an empty counter right over there.  Would it help if you had a place to empty the things out of your purse onto that counter as you’re looking?  Maybe the keys will show up if there aren’t so many things falling back on top of them while you’re looking.”

 The woman dried her tears and followed the ladies over to the counter where she began to systematically take things out of her purse and lay them on the counter as she looked for her car keys.  About half way down she found them, put them in their proper place in her purse and replaced the items she had taken out.  Then she joyfully shook hands with Esther and Sunny and thanked them profusely for caring enough to help her.

 Sunny said, “You’re very welcome.”  Then she mentioned,This reminds me of a story told in the Bible about a woman who lost a coin that was precious to her.  She stopped everything else she was doing and searched all over her house until she found it.  Then she called her neighbors to come into her house and celebrate with her.  When Jesus told this story in Luke 15:8-10, he ended it by saying, Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.  Do you have the joy of knowing that the angels rejoiced when you repented and asked Jesus to be your Savior?”

 The woman looked puzzled and admitted,  “I’ve never heard that I need to repent or that I need a savior.”

 Esther asked, “Would you like for us to tell you more about it?  We could go find a place to sit in the mall so we can explain it to you and you can ask us questions.”

 The woman nodded and followed them out to some seats facing each other in the mall.  The men followed at a distance so they could continue to pray.

 Sunny explained, “Your lost keys weren’t like people who do bad things and need to repent, but we were all glad when you found them.  The story right after the lost coin is about a son who asked his dad for his inheritance so he could leave home.  After leaving and squandering his whole inheritance, he became hungry and destitute, and he realized how bad he had been.  So he decided to go back home and admit his bad behavior to his dad.”

 Esther asked, “Sunny could I read the rest of the story to her from this Bible?”  She nodded so Esther read, The son said, ‘I will get up and go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran to embrace and kiss him.  His son said ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring here the fattened calf and kill it.  Let us eat and be merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again.  He was lost, and is found,’ and they began to rejoice.  That’s in Luke 15:18-24.”

 Sunny added, “The son in this story is like the people in the world.  We all decided to do things our way instead of the way God the Father said to do them.  So we all sinned against the Heavenly Father as it says in Romans 3:23, For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Therefore all people need to repent as it says in Acts 3:19a, Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.  I did those things over five years ago when my best friend here came back from a meeting in a big city and told me she had just done it.  Do you have any questions?”

 The woman nodded and asked, “What good is it to repent and then keep doing bad things?”

 Esther answered, “That’s a good question.  It wouldn’t do any good to do that.  The idea is to repent and be converted which means to become a new person who quits doing bad things.  Not that we’re perfect, because we won’t be perfect until we get to heaven.”

 “So you know you’re going to heaven?” asked the woman.

 Sunny answered, “Yes, this is the best part for me.  I was always so scared of dying and going to the other place.  Now that I’ve repented and been converted, I know I’ll spend eternity in heaven because Jesus said in John 3:16-18, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.  He who believes on Jesus is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  So according to those verses the worst sin of all, is to not believe in Jesus, the Son of God.”

 Esther continued, “And the best thing of all to do, is to believe in the name of Jesus, the Son of God.  If you’ll do that, you can be sure you’re going to heaven the same way we’re sure.”

 The woman next inquired, “How do I get converted after I repent so that I don’t continue to do bad things?”

 Sunny responded, “You ask good questions.  When we repent and ask God to forgive us for our sins, and we believe in Jesus, God’s Son, then we are forgiven for all our sins.  God’s Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts and we are born again or converted.  We become new people as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore if any man is in Christ (Jesus), he is a new creature.  Old things have passed away, and all things have become new.”

 Esther added, “More than five years ago, we became new believers who had a lot to learn, and we’re still learning.  We go to a very good church and to small groups where we’re taught how to live the way God desires for us to live.  We read the Bible and pray that he will guide and teach us as we go on through life.”

 “What do you think?”  Sunny asked the woman.  “Would you like to repent and be converted and know you will spend eternity in heaven?”  

 The woman nodded, closed her eyes and prayed out loud, “God, I didn’t know about all these things, but I can tell that these two ladies are telling the truth and have backed it up from the Bible.  So now I repent and ask you to forgive all these sins in my life.”  She went on to list a lot of sins, since her life had been so long already.  Then she requested, “God please forgive me and change me into a new person who doesn’t do bad things.  I believe in Jesus your Son, so now I know I’ll have everlasting life in heaven when I die.”  She opened her eyes and smiled.  “This is such a relief to me, even better than finding my car keys in my purse.  My whole life I’ve worried about what happens after I die, but now I know where I’ll be.”

 Sunny and Esther rejoiced with her and Sunny declared, “The angels in heaven are rejoicing also.”

 Esther explained, “Remember to not expect yourself to be perfect now.  If you do sin or do something bad, just remember 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Then ask him to help you do better next time.”

 Sunny added, “I have a little booklet to give to you that explains more about what you did today.  There’s a card in it that you can fill out and bring to our church with you tomorrow.  If you’d like, Esther and I could pick you up at your house and you can ride with us.  Then after church we can introduce you to our pastor and you can give him this card.  If you mark the place on the card about wanting to join a small group for new believers, he will call you as soon as a new group is starting.”

 Esther continued, “The small group would be a very big help to you as you learn how to live your new life.  You’ll meet some other people who have recently made the same choice you made, and you can all learn and ask questions at the meetings.”

 I would like to do that.  Here’s a piece of paper with my name, address, and phone number on it.  What time do I need to be ready for you to pick me up for church?” the woman asked.

 After looking at the address, Sunny replied, “Church starts at 2 PM, so we’d like to pick you up at 1:40, so we’ll have plenty of time to get there.”

 All right.  I’ll be ready.  Thank you both for taking your time to help me find my keys, and then tell me how to repent and be converted.  I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said as she picked up her packages and was ready to leave the mall to go out to her car.

 Esther responded, “You’re very welcome.  We’re so delighted that you now believe in Jesus as your Savior.”

 Nathan and Felix came over and they all had a great time praising and thanking God for his help in this ministry and that this had been such a happy time for all of them today.  Then the men took the ladies back to their respective homes.

 Back at their apartment, Nathan commented, “I’m glad we paired off the way we did for our four by four group.”

 Felix agreed, “Yes, that woman would be much more likely to listen to the two ladies rather than to an unmarried couple, or especially two men.  I like to watch how God works things out.”

 Agreed.  Plus I enjoyed watching how well Esther and Sunny worked together, each one explaining a small part at a time and then getting the lady to ask questions.  They make an outstanding team.  We’ll have a terrific praise to share this week at the small group.” remarked Nathan.

 “You’re right,” Felix responded. “Last week we didn’t get to share, since it was all about abusive parents.”

 “Last week could not have been a coincidence, and I’ve wondered why God would have us be there to interrupt three abuses in a row.  Maybe someday I’ll find out,” Nathan commented.

 “I wondered about it myself, but it might not be something we’re supposed to know,” observed Felix.  

 Nathan agreed, “True, and sometimes I make extra stress for myself by trying to figure out things that aren’t my business.

 Felix requested, “Nathan, look up Proverbs 27:9b in the New International Version and read it.  It’s my complement to you.”

 Nathan read it and replied, “Thank you Felix!  I hope others will consider my earnest counsel to be pleasant also when I get to do it again.  I guess it’s on hold for right now.”

 Felix responded, “Well, for right now, your counsel is perfect for me, and I’m sure when God’s time is right, he will bring you many people who need counsel, and he will give you the wisdom to help them too.  You’ve always been good at counseling others, even more so after Jesus saved you and his Holy Spirit filled you.  The studies you did at the university also added to your abilities.”

 “Thank you again, Felix.  You’re a great friend and I’m extremely glad we moved here and have worked together on our project, even though your part is over now.  You did learn very well how to not tease, and now you can let the fun loving part of your personality come through without having to worry about what Esther might think about it,” stated Nathan.

 You’re right!  This has been good for me even though it was awfully stressful as I was going through it,” admitted Felix.

 

 Sunday morning Jeff suggested, “Would it work for us to ask the whole Hopkins family to come for supper this evening?  We own some fun videos, and the girls can choose which one to watch while we talk to their foster parents and get answers to all the questions your research on the web resulted in for us.”

 Karen replied, “Yes that would work very well.  Would you call them now and see if they can come?  If they can, I’ll plan something for supper that can be baking in the oven while we’re at church.  We can clean and get the house ready for company before church.  I’d like to get better acquainted with them anyway.”

 Jeff made the call and they said they’d like to come and bring a dessert to share.  The time sped along as Jeff and Karen did as they had planned.  The church service was good like it always was.  Soon it was 5:30 and their guests arrived.  Supper and dessert were delicious and the table conversation enjoyable.

 After all hands helped with the cleanup, the girls were thrilled with the videos they could choose from.  When they were settled, the adults got busy with questions and answers.

 By the time the evening ended and their guests had gone home, Jeff and Karen were convinced that they could indeed be foster parents also.  They had been praying about it since Thursday, and God graciously answered their questions and showed them his will through this time spent with two good foster parents.

 

 Monday morning Esther asked Ruth if she could come eat lunch with them so they could get Maria caught up on what had happened so far.  During lunch they had fun watching Maria’s expressions as they told her all about it.

 Maria declared, “Your lives sound more like a movie or a story somebody might make up, than real life.  But I know you two tell the truth, and sometimes truth is more fantastic than fiction when God is in the middle of the adventure.  I’m so happy to hear that God made his will so clear to you, Esther.  Everything is better when you know you’re in the middle of God’s will for your life, even if there might be some hard spots to get through.”

 Esther agreed, “Yes, that’s the best part of all, knowing his will and being sure he will be helping me all the way.  I’ll have to admit though, that I don’t look forward to those hard spots.”

 Ruth encouraged, “You’ll do fine, Esther.  Just remember how far you’ve already come and that the Lord is our help and our shield, as it says in Psalm 33:20b.

 Thank you, Ruth, I’ll do it,” promised Esther, and then she continued, “Maria, you once said that this is a life long decision, and I took it to heart.  I didn’t want to make a life long mistake.  I’m just so thankful I don’t have to worry about it any longer.”

 Maria exclaimed, “What a special blessing for you, Esther!  I’m so pleased for you!”

 Ruth commented, “So am I, and I know Mom and Dad are also.  Mom would tell you though, to still take it slowly.  ‘Date until you really know each other and have learned how to settle disagreements.  It’ll make your whole married life go better.  And be sure to keep Jesus central!’  I’m sure you’ll do it.”

 Esther responded, “Ruth, you sounded just like her!  She has told me those exact things often, but it’s good to be reminded.”

 Maria changed the subject.  “One of you mentioned Vera when you were telling me about the dude ranch several weeks ago.  I didn’t realize it then, but she’s in the same small group as I am.  She’s a very nice lady and I’m enjoying getting to know her a little better during the group fellowship time.

 How wonderful for you!” exclaimed Esther.  “She’s one of my favorite people.  I learned so many things from her every time we went to the dude ranch.  She’s a storehouse of knowledge.”

 I’m looking forward to the weekend when we’ll get to go to the dude ranch and I’ll get to know her better,” remarked, Maria.

 So are we!  Oh my!  This lunch hour always goes so fast.  Thanks for coming today, Esther.  We had better let you go so you won’t be late getting back for work,” observed Ruth.

 Maria stated, I’ll see you in church Sunday, Esther.  God bless you!”

 God bless you too, Maria, come sit with us,” replied Esther as she waved and went out the door.

 

 

  

Chapter 5

 

Philippians 4:6,7, Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God,

which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

   

 The Monday evening small group was meeting in the school lunchroom, hosted by Sunny and Esther who had volunteered last week.  They put a centerpiece on the refreshment table they had made out of colorful pinwheels bought at the dollar store.  When Jeff and Karen arrived, the four of them went and brought chairs from the sanctuary to set up in a big circle for the members, so they wouldn't have to sit on the benches at the lunch tables.

 During praise time, Sunny shared, “We thank you Jesus for the privilege Esther and I had of telling a woman about the Good News while Felix and Nathan prayed for us.  She prayed to be converted and attended church with us yesterday.  She gave her card to Pastor Don and will be in a new believers’ group soon.”

 Then Esther praised, “Jesus you are so amazing!  Thank you for making your will plain for me to see, with no doubts about it.”

 Another member was next.  “Thank you, Triune God, for the way you worked through our two by two team to perform a miracle of healing that straightened out a crippled hand so it now works as well as the other non-crippled hand.  All the people in the family were convinced of your power and love, so when we told them the Good News, they all accepted Jesus as their Savior and were also in church this Sunday.  Pastor Don was happy to tell them there would be a new believers’ group beginning soon.”

 Karen prayed, “We also praise and thank you Jesus for making your will clear to us this week.”

 Since that was the last praise, Jeff led the group praise time, and when there weren’t any announcements, he asked who’d like to be hosts next week.  When that was taken care of, he put the SD card in the boom box and they sang four beautiful praise and worship songs and hymns.  The teaching time was a little shorter this week so they could have a discussion about how God’s will can be made known to us.  When Jeff introduced that topic he got some interesting answers along with the usual ones.

 Nathan observed, “The Bible has the answers to many people’s questions about God’s will.  If it’s a DO, or DON’T DO command, it’s very clear what God’s will is, but it’s not always that easy.”

 One person said, “I pray until I feel at peace about what to do.”

 Felix stated, “I look in the big concordance about the topic in question and read all the scriptures that might be helpful, and ask God to show me the way through His Word.”

 Someone else said,  “I call trusted friends and we pray together about it and I listen to all their thoughts about it, and then we pray some more.  If there’s no answer yet we repeat the sequence another day or days until he shows us what to do.”

 Esther explained, “This last time, I did a lot of research on the web about the topic, prayed about what I found out, made a chart about the pros and cons, and prayed about it some more.  Then a series of five things happened in a relatively short period of time that could not have been coincidences, and they convinced me of the direction God wants me to go concerning two extremely important decisions I needed to make.  I’m so relieved that he made the decisions for me and I don’t have to worry about whether they’re the right thing to do.  It’s wonderful to know and be in HIS will.

 Candy mentioned, “I don’t know what God’s will is in most situations, since I’m a new believer, so I ask my new mom and dad for help, and they usually show me the answer in the Bible.”

 Karen added, “A prayer by one of our members awhile ago got us to thinking and praying about God’s will for us in an important area of our lives.  Like Esther, I also did a lot of research on the web, and then we had even more questions.  We prayed some more and then we asked some people who were doing a good job in that area for their answers to our questions.  Doing all of these things helped us to know what God desires for us to do.”

 Sunny shared,  “If none of these good ideas work, I call our pastor and ask his advice, and ask him to pray with me.”

 Jeff finished, “Thanks for all of your good answers about what you do to find out what God’s will is for you.  He doesn’t want us to be in the dark about his will, and he doesn’t hide it from us.  But sometimes we have to search and pray and wait for his timing.  So don’t ever give up!  Here’s a handout with some Bible verses and steps for finding God’s will that might give you some more ideas.

(You can look on the web for many of those verses.)

 The conversational prayer time and refreshments and fellowship followed their discussion.  It was an outstanding small group meeting, and everyone helped to put the chairs back in the sanctuary, so the ladies wouldn’t have to do it alone.

 When they got home from the small group meeting, that Monday, Nathan commented, “It’s going to be so different, now that I’m dating Esther by myself.  I’m feeling rather unsure of myself.  You and I have done so much talking and planning together up until now, and I’m not really sure how to proceed.”

 Felix responded, I understand what you’re saying.  I’m feeling up in the air myself, because I don’t know what to do next.  We’ve been working together on this project for so many years that it’s become a lifestyle for us, and it will be very hard for us to change.  But we have to change because there’s no way to go back.  I don’t want to go back anyway.  Besides when she would have chosen one of us on her own, we’d still have this same dilemma, so we may as well get used to it and go forward.”

 “You’re right, my friend.  It has already helped me just to talk and listen to you.  I know we’re both unsure of what to do because of this big change, but we’ll make it,” stated Nathan.

 Felix mentioned, “We can still discuss whatever we need to and pray with each other, and maybe even give suggestions.”

 Good, then I’d like suggestions for dates as just a couple.  I’d like to set something up for this week that would be fun and also give us a chance to just talk,” requested Nathan.

 Let me think.  This is one of my chances to cheer you on, so I want to make it good. …  A movie or the game arcade might be fun but there’s no chance to talk.  It’s too cold to go for a walk, besides, we just went for a walk at the gym.  There is an art and photography museum that stays open later on Wednesday evenings, and I think there are benches where people can sit to discuss the pictures or whatever else.  You could go there after your own suppers since we just took her out to eat last time and she is worried about you spending too much money,” said Felix.

 I like your idea of the museum.  It’ll give me a chance to learn more about what she likes and dislikes about art and photography.  The benches will be perfect for conversation.  Thank you, Felix.  How can I help you now?”

 Just continue to pray for me and be ready with your counsel when I need it as I get used to this change,” requested Felix.

 I’ll be glad to, and I’d like you to keep praying for me as I continue to try and win Esther’s love,” Nathan replied.  Then he made a phone call to Esther and she agreed that the museum sounded like a good place to go on Wednesday evening.

 

 At the ranch Tuesday evening Vera remarked, “I’d really like to share our idea in my small group tonight, but I think it’s too early yet.”  

 Oscar replied, “I agree.  We need to get a few more things worked out and more definite plans and ideas before we go public with it.  But the time will come pretty soon for you to share.”

 She added, “Yes, and It’s the same way with Nathan.  Now I think we can trust him, but we don’t know enough about our plans yet to be able to tell him about it.  As usual I’m being impatient.”

 He responded, “I understand, because I’m the same way.”

 Thanks for understanding.  I’ll see you when I get home, Honey.” she said as she went out the door.

 When she got home, Vera said, “It was a good thing I didn’t share my idea this evening, because God had a word of knowledge for several couples in the group that would help them when it came time to make important decisions.”

 Oscar asked, What was it?”

 She replied, “During the conversational prayer time a man in the group said, ‘God wants me to say that there are some couples here who aren’t able to have children, but desire a large family, and would either like to be able to ride horses more often, or work at farming.  God said that he would fulfill your desires as you follow his leading.’  God already knows which ones will volunteer!”

 Oscar exclaimed, “Yes he does.  He’s so amazing!”

 

 In Pine City after their suppers Wednesday evening, Nathan picked up Esther and they went to the art and photo museum.  She enjoyed sitting in the front seat with him, but remembered to stay quiet while he was driving.  This date was different for both of them and they kind of missed the other two who usually went with them.  But they also realized the time had come for a change.

 It was cool inside the museum so they left their coats on but unbuttoned them.  Nathan asked, “Have you been here before?”

 She replied, “Only one time, and it was years ago.  It’ll be interesting to see what I remember.”

 He remarked, “This is my first time here, but I have been to other museums like this in other cities.  Please set the pace for us.  I don’t want you to feel rushed or get bored if I do it.”

 Thank you, Nathan, for being so thoughtful.  All right, I’ll set the pace, but feel free to let me know if you feel rushed or bored.”

 He laughed and said, “We could go back and forth that way for a long time.  But thank you, Esther.  I only know that I’ll feel privileged to be spending time with you.”

 She smiled her thanks to him and led the way to the first painting.  He noticed that she spent more time looking at landscapes than cities, or still life, or portraits of people.  They discussed various features and styles as they went.

 When they reached the photographs, she studied the pretty landscapes even longer.  Part of the way through, her feet started to feel tired, so she found a comfortable bench so they could sit for a while.  “I think you can tell that I enjoy the photographs more than the paintings.  They’re so much more realistic.  I especially like the one we can see from this bench because it reminds me of the valley where the dude ranch is located,” explained Esther.

 Nathan agreed, “Yes, it really does look a lot like that beautiful valley.  I understand what you mean and I feel the same way.  Some of those artists are very talented, but I prefer photographs when I can’t be in the real place.”  After a little pause he asked, “May I ask you a question about your comment in small group Monday?”  She nodded so he continued, “What were the five things that happened to help you know God’s will for you?”

 Esther responded, “I’m glad you asked, because I’ve been wanting to tell you about them, but didn’t know how to start.  The first four were the child abuses our group was able to stop.  They could not have been coincidences.  I think God used them to convince me that he wants me to be a foster mother.  Next, I asked him to choose the best man to be the foster father, and at the end of our next ‘double’ date Felix honestly told me about his realization, and gracefully bowed out of your joint project.  When I was writing about all these things in my journal, I knew that God had chosen you, Nathan, to be the best foster father and therefore the best husband for me.  I’m so relieved that I do not have to choose between the two of you men.  Instead, I can know I’m in the center of God’s will because my FATHER chose for me, and HE always knows best.”

 Nathan was speechless for a few moments while all that sank in, and he wondered if he had heard correctly.  He slowly asked, “Does what you just told me, mean that you’ll be willing to marry me and we can be foster parents to needy abused children?”

 Esther smiled at his amazement.  “Yes, Nathan.  When you know me well enough to be sure you really want me to be your wife and to foster parent with you, I’ll be willing.  My mother would tell us to take it slowly and really get to know each other and especially to learn how to settle disagreements first.  I think our first date as a couple is too soon for us to get engaged even though we both know where we’re headed.  What do you think?”

 I think you’re a remarkable, level headed, intelligent woman, and I agree with everything you just expressed.  We’ll use our dates to enjoy and get to know each other so when we get married things will go better for us than if we rush.  Have you read the book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Steven R. Covey?”

 She replied, Thank you for the compliments and for agreeing.  Yes, I have read that book several times, and I attempt to live the way he suggests along with the way the Bible teaches.”

 Excellent!” Nathan exclaimed.  “If we both live that way, we’ll be able to settle disagreements by following God’s steps and Covey’s steps and always working toward both of us winning.”

 Esther responded, “I like the sound of that.  My feet are rested enough now.  I’d like to go look at some more photographs.”

 As they were looking at the photographs Nathan thought, “Oh, yes, Esther, I know now that you’re willing to marry me and be a foster mother.  But I’d like to have your love, not just your willingness.  Therefore I’ll use our dates to win your love for me along with getting to know you better.”

 

 Thursday Felix remarked, “Nathan, I’ve diverted my attention from Esther to others in the church and small group.  I’ve been thinking about Ruth because she was so nice to help us.  I can see a sense of humor in her.  But she is four years older than I am, and is a self-proclaimed old maid.  No, I should say she’s very decided about remaining single.  I’m sorry, that just slipped out, and I’m super glad she was not here to hear it.  Anyway, I’d probably be wasting my time attempting to get her interested in me.”

 Nathan replied, “I agree, and don’t worry about your slip.  You really have been doing much better.  I’m proud of you.”

 Thank you, Nathan.  “It means a lot to me to hear you say it.”

 

 Friday evening Ted and Julie were discussing their Tuesday evening small group.  “I think it’s very interesting that we’re studying about how to know God’s will again, so soon after the last time.  I get the feeling there may be more big changes in store.”

 Yes, I remember the first time we had lunch with them, Anita said something like with the Holy Spirit leading us, it’s bound to be an adventure,” Julie agreed.

  Ted stated, Yes, and I has been so far.  I especially liked the verse Vera shared from Isaiah 45:2, I will go before you and make the crooked places straight.  I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.  I’ll be watching and not be totally surprised if that verse will have a special meaning to us in the near future.”

 Julie questioned, “What makes you think it might be for us?”

 “Remember our discussion a couple weeks ago about me maybe wanting to do something that would be of more service to the Kingdom of God?” asked Ted.  “When she read that verse, the word handyman came immediately to my mind.”

 “Oh my!  This does sound like a real possibility for us.  Jesus, we ask you to please make your will very clear to us where that word and that verse are concerned.  Please help us to not miss any of your signs and directions along this road,” prayed Julie.

 Ted continued, “Yes, Jesus, you know we definitely want to recognize and do only your will, so we’ll be watching and listening for your guidance in the near future.”

 Julie opened her small group notebook and read aloud the word of knowledge the man had shared that evening.  Then she added, “We could be one of those couples.”

 Ted agreed, “I see what you mean, because we have always wanted a big family, and we both like to ride horses.  Those are great road signs for us to keep in mind.”

 

 Saturday’s four by four group ministry time produced no results, so after about 45 minutes they went to get some refreshments at one of the many food courts in the mall.  They had a nice time of praying and then visiting and listening while Sunny and Felix told some fun and funny jokes.

 Esther asked, “How do you remember all the details and tell jokes in such interesting ways?  Both of you do a terrific job.”

 Sunny replied, “It’s just something I enjoy, so I guess it comes easily.  I even have fun practicing them.”

 Felix added, “I get a good feeling when I can make others laugh, especially when it doesn’t involve teasing, which can be a real nuisance.  I’m glad I learned that fact and have changed.”

 It is a great achievement and I’m glad for you,” stated Esther.  Felix smiled and now he really felt good.

 In a few minutes Nathan asked,  “Are all of you ready to go home?”

 They all nodded, so the men took the ladies to their homes.

 

 Nathan started sitting with Esther in church, so Felix sat in a different place on Sunday to observe some single ladies.  At small group he was especially attentive to what Sunny said and did during praise time, singing, worship, taking notes during the teaching time, and prayers.

 At home he mentioned, “Nathan, I’m very impressed with Sunny in the small group and when we go on our four by four ministry times.  Her sunny disposition and fun loving nature come through pretty often.  Her looks are also pleasing and I think I’m beginning to feel attracted to her.”

 Nathan responded, “I’ve seen those things about her also.”

 Felix added, “I’ve noticed that after we have debriefing and prayer times at the end of our four by four ministry times, if I tell a joke it’s usually well received.  Sometimes I think she might even be showing an interest in me.”  

 Nathan agreed and smiled.  “What are you going to do?”

 I think I’ll ask her out for a date,” Felix stated.

 Nathan replied, “Good idea, go for it, Felix!  I think she’s a very nice lady and she might be perfectly suited to you.”

 

 When she got home to the ranch after church Sunday, Vera said, “Walt asked me if you had been able to get the building permit, and I told him you had gotten it the week after they were here with the plans.”

 What else did he say?  I can see a twinkle in your eyes and it alerts me that you have more news.”  Oscar laughed.

 You read me so well.  Yes, he said he was sorry they were a week late, but they’re now all finished with their other remodel projects and will be here to start work tomorrow morning at 8 AM!” Vera declared.  “He explained that he had figured wrongly about a few things and that’s why it took longer.”

 Oscar and she had another victory dance around the kitchen.

 

 In Pine City after the prayer time of their next four by four ministry time Felix expressed, “Sunny, I’d like to be able to spend more time with you and get to know you better.  Would you be willing to go on dates with me?”

 She responded, “Yes, in fact I’d like to become better acquainted with you also, and it would take more time than the small group and four by four ministry times give to us.”

 “Wonderful!” he replied.  Do you like to play table tennis?  I have a membership at the recreation center and you could come as my guest if you don’t have a membership.  Would you like to go there tomorrow after church?”

 She answered, “It sounds like a fun idea.  You better watch out though, I like to put spins on the ball. Then she laughed and added, “Actually I’m not a very good player, but I enjoy it.”

 “Okay!” Felix exclaimed.  “Esther and Nathan, could you bring Sunny to church and then she can ride with me after church?”

 “Sure, it sounds like a good plan,” Esther replied.

 The next day at church, Sunny sat on the other side of Esther, and Felix sat next to Sunny.  People could start talking all they wanted to now.  These four didn’t care.  They enjoyed a wonderful service as usual, and then Nathan left with Esther, and Felix departed with Sunny.

 Like the gentleman he was, Felix opened the car door for her and made sure she was settled before closing it.  Small talk was interesting on the way from church to the recreation center.  Felix got out and went around to open her door.  They talked some more on the way inside.  When they got checked in, they found out that the tennis tables were already occupied.

 Felix asked, “How would it work to go walk on the inside track until a table becomes available?”

 “It’s a great idea.  We’ll get a chance to stretch our legs and warm up our muscles before we play our first game,” she said.

 He inquired.What are some other things you enjoy doing?”

 “I like walking outside when it’s warm enough, especially when I get to see flowers blooming in yards and in the parks.  I like to play badminton or croquet, go for hikes and bike rides, go swimming or use the exercise equipment here since I also have a membership. I also like to visit any of the museums while it’s still too cold out or if it’s raining,” she answered.

 “Neat!  I like all those things also.  I can tell from those things that you’re an outdoors kind of person,” Felix mentioned.

 Yes, and I’ll bet you are also.  Since your job is at Valley Truck Farm, you probably get to be outside whenever the weather permits that kind of work,” she responded.

 They continued to walk, talk and tell jokes until a table was available and they hurried to claim it.  They played four games, each one winning twice and both very satisfied with how well matched they were in skills.

 On the way to her home he asked, “Which one of the museums would you like to go to next Saturday morning?”

 “I haven’t been to the Pine City Historical Museum in a long time.  Are you interested in the history of Pine City?” she asked.

 “Yes, I’d like to learn more about it,” Felix responded.  Would 9 AM be a good time for me to pick you up.”  She nodded and he said, “I'll be sure to get you home in time to eat your lunch, and then we’ll come and get you for our four by four ministry time.”

 It sounds like a good plan and a busy day,” said Sunny.

 

 On Thursday, Oscar and Vera and her brother and his wife from Mercy Valley Truck Farm, as they would call it, went to Pine City and met with the pastors of Faith ‘n’ Grace Churches #1, #4, and #7 so they could decide how to get families informed and interested in Mercy Valley Ranch for girls and Mercy Valley Truck Farm for boys.   Oscar and Vera left their vet, Unice, in charge of the ranch so both of them could go.  They decided to announce their plans in church #7 for her brother, and church #4 for the Yardleys, since those were the ones Vera and her brother had attended for so many years.  They knew many of the families there, and thought it would be a good idea to have mostly people who already knew one another.  

 At the meeting Pastor Don mentioned, “These parents should be volunteers who really feel called to be foster parents, and are willing to take the extra training needed to work with abused children.  It would be like the training given beforehand to those who want to become foster parents to the children we intercept shoplifting in some of the stores.  Vera and her brother could announce the plans and ask if there are any who’d like to volunteer and take the training.”

 Oscar agreed, “Vera and I will need the same training, so we could all take it at the same time.  It could be kind of like another small group for us, and we’d have a chance to get to know each other better.”

 “Yes.”  Don concurred.  The church has a booklet they’d need to read, and there are several required classes to attend. After the training, the volunteers would meet with me or the pastor of Church #7 separately, so they can ask questions and we can ask them questions.  There might be a few couples who decide at some point during the process that this isn’t really the thing for them to do.  This is a good time to find out, rather than after they’ve sold their houses in town and moved to the ranch or farm.  It is an enormous commitment.

 The ones who still desire to be foster parents will need to get the state’s required license before any children can be placed in their homes.  The way to do this will be covered in one of the classes.  We should probably have a memo with this information written out for those who are interested after Vera and her brother’s announcements at their churches.  We’ll include a web site where they can get many of their questions answered about being foster parents before they volunteer.”

 Vera responded, “Those sound like good ideas.  And for the ranch, the parents will need to enjoy working with and riding horses, so their girls will have parents who’ll take them horseback riding often.  It wouldn’t be safe for them to go alone.  Building relationships with horses can be very helpful to abused girls.”

 Don continued, “I agree.  The memo will include the things we’ve talked about today.  We’ll also say that foster parents will be given a monthly reimbursement for each child, which is tax free and depends on the age of the children.  The parents will find out the amount from the state when they get to that point.  And we’ll tell them they can choose the age of the girls or boys.

 We’ll stress that this is a big commitment, but they don’t have to decide right away, and the web site will give them a lot of information.  We’ll encourage them to pray about it a lot!

 I’ll get the church secretary to type up the memo and she’ll email a copy to all of you to get your approval.  Then she’ll have it ready to be handed out to interested couples in your churches this Saturday and Sunday.”

 Vera said, “Thank you all for your help and information.  We really appreciate what you’re doing.”

 

 Saturday morning the twins, Hope and Joy, were up early, dressed, and ready to go spend a couple hours with Timmy and Mary at their house.  Mindy would be there to take care of them and help them have fun.  She always had lots of good ideas.  Roy and Sherry dropped them off and left after greeting everyone.  Joy and Hope ran to give Mindy a hug and then talked to Timmy and Mary.  The adults were going to have couple’s time today.

 Hope said, “This will be so fun today, even though it’s too cold to play outside.  Your house is big enough that we can have fun inside too.  I like your house.”

 We like it too.  What did you do yesterday at school?” asked Mary?  “I want to see if it was the same as what Timmy did.”

 So, Joy and Hope and Timmy took turns telling what they had done during the day yesterday.  Indeed, all three classes had done the same things.  Mary was amazed.  Mindy enjoyed listening to them and when they finished, she suggested a game of Find the Button.  She had hidden it before they arrived while Mary and Timmy weren't watching.  They started out asking questions about where it could be.  The answer could only be a nod or shake of Mindy's head, so they had to think and pay attention.

 Joy asked, “Is it in the kitchen?”  Mindy shook her head.

 Timmy asked, “Is it a big one or a little one?”  Mindy laughed and shrugged her shoulders.  Timmy got the message and asked, “Is it a big button?”  Mindy nodded this time.

 Mary asked, “Is the button in the living room?”  Mindy smiled at Mary and nodded.

 Hope asked, “Is it the same button as last time we played this game?”  Mindy grinned and nodded.

 But I don’t remember that button,” stated Mary.  Timmy quietly told her what it looked like so she wouldn’t be frustrated.

 Next Joy questioned, “Is it on the floor?”  Mindy nodded.

 Now they had enough information that Mindy sent them off to look for the button.  Since it was a large living room, it took them awhile.  Finally Mary spotted it and made a dive to reach under the couch and pull out the button.  It was a big red button that looked like a lady bug.  It even had black spots on it.  Each child took a turn to hide the button for the rest of the group to ask questions until they had enough clues to go looking.  Then they played several other fun inside games before their parents returned.

 

 On this cold, windy Saturday, Felix and Sunny arrived at the Pine City Historical Museum and he explained, “I’d like to set the pace for our tour, because I wish to learn all I can about Pine City, and I’ll probably have a lot of questions to ask you as we go.  Will that work for you?

 She responded, “It’s a good idea.  I need to review a lot of the information myself, and if I don’t know the answer to a question, we can look for it together.  I think we’ll learn a lot and have fun.”

 It took most of the morning to get through the whole museum in that manner, but it was enjoyable for both of them, and each of them did learn interesting things.  They were able to find humor in some of the displays and once in a while one of them would tell a joke that just fit in with the topic at hand.  Felix was beginning to realize he had found a kindred spirit in Sunny.

 When Felix left her at her apartment he said, “Thank you very much Sunny, for all the information and for the fun we had.”

 “You’re very welcome.  I enjoyed the morning a lot.  Thank you for taking me to the museum.  I’ll be ready for our ministry time at 2 PM,” Sunny responded.

 Nathan and Felix were right on time to pick her up after getting Esther, and the two ladies talked quietly in the back seat since Nathan was driving today.  They all prayed together in the car before going inside, and then they walked around in the mall for a while rather than going inside a store today.

 Pretty soon, the men signaled for the ladies to pray as they went to talk with a teenage boy sitting by himself.

 Felix greeted him, “Hi, it’s pretty cold and windy outside today.  I’m glad these stores are connected by this inside walking area.”

 Yeah, I was glad to get inside and warm up a little.  Somehow I lost the change I had in my pocket to pay the bus fare home, so I was walking,” the boy explained.

 Nathan asked, “Will your parents be worried if you don’t get home when they expected you?”

 Yes, but I pulled another dumb and forgot to bring my cell phone with me today.  They’ll probably be mad, on top of being worried.  It seems like I can’t do anything right,” he answered.

 Felix offered, “Would you like to call them on my phone?”

 Oh, yes! Thank you.”  He took the offered cell phone and called his parents who were relieved and told him they’d come pick him up.  He handed the phone back to Felix and said, They’re coming to pick me up.  Thank you again!”

 Felix responded, “You’re very welcome.”

 Nathan remarked, “I’m really thankful that I have a father in heaven, and that I can reach him without the use of any phone.  All I need to do is pray.  Do you know him?”

 He answered, I’ve heard that God in heaven is our father, but that’s about all I know.”

 Felix asked, Could we tell you about him and his Son, Jesus?”  After he nodded, Felix and Nathan took turns explaining about God, the Father, loving us human beings so much that he sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. He made a way for us to know both of them if we’d repent and believe in Jesus.

 His parents arrived a little way through the explanation, and they stood back and listened, not wanting to interrupt.  Sunny and Esther added to their prayers that the parents would listen all the way through and accept Jesus also.  They were delighted when both of them also prayed when Nathan led the teenager in a prayer like the pastor uses some Sundays.

 Then the parents went to join their son and get some questions answered.  Felix gave them a little booklet and explained about the card.  As they were leaving, the dad said, “Thank you both again.  We’ll see you in church Sunday.”

 Esther and Sunny went to have a great praise session with Nathan and Felix.  It had been another wonderful ministry time.

 

  Vera was looking forward to her small group meeting on Tuesday evening.  When she arrived, she went and greeted the facilitators, Ted and Julie Blake, and then sat down beside Maria.

 Vera and Maria visited for a few minutes while the other members were arriving and getting settled.  Then it was time to share praises and thanks to God.  Vera started with, “Lord, I’m so thankful to you for the way you’ve answered so many prayers and given guidance to Oscar and me about what to do with our dude ranch.  With your help, we’ll be able to turn it into a place for ten couples who want to be foster parents to make homes for four abused girls each.  They can love and care for the girls while they teach them the Good News and guide them to the Savior.  Then he can save, heal, restore and rehabilitate their lives.”

 There were many other praises, but Maria was so interested in Vera’s, that the others went unnoticed this time.  Instead, she prayed that God would bless and continue to help the Yardleys with this project.  She wondered what Esther would think.

 When it was time for announcements, Vera said, “If any of you would like more information about what we have planned for the ranch, you can ask me during the fellowship time.”  Maria decided she’d stay near and see what more she could learn.

 The rest of the meeting was very much like Esther’s Monday group had been with similar comments from the members about how God’s will can be made known to us, and the same handout was given at the end of the teaching time.

 During the conversational prayer time Maria began with, “Lord, I ask that you will bless the Yardleys as they continue planning and preparing their ranch to be homes for girls who need you.”

 Vera continued, “Yes, and please begin to speak to couples who would be able to be good foster parents for the girls.  Put the desire in their hearts and then make the way for them to do it.”

 Ted added, “I agree and ask you to make your will completely clear to the people you want to be involved in this project.”

 Julie agreed, “Yes, Jesus.  I thank you for the many different ways you show your followers what you desire for them to do.”

 A few added their agreement and requests and others changed the subject to ask for other things.  Then it was time for refreshments and fellowship.  People picked up cookies and fruit juice and went to find someone to visit with as they ate.

 Maria explained, “Vera, I’d like to stay near you and hear what people might ask you.  Would it be all right with you?”

 She replied, “Of course it is.  I’m glad you’re interested.”

 One person asked, “Will the families be living on the ranch?”

 Vera answered, “Yes, we’re adding extra bedrooms to the smaller cabins and a one car garage to all the cabins so they’ll be ready to become Caring Foster Homes.

 Another person inquired, “When will the cabins be ready?”

 Vera replied, “We don’t know how long the renovations will take, but the planning for them is completed.”

 Someone else asked, “Do the couples need to already have the four foster girls with them.”

 No, some will have none yet and others might already have one or two but need to be willing to take more.  We’d like to have all the homes filled to capacity so we can help as many girls as there are places for them to live,” responded Vera.

 Wow, that’s forty!” Cory exclaimed and then asked, “Is your ranch only going to have girls?  What can be done for boys who need to be in Caring Foster Homes?”

 Vera replied, “I’m glad you asked this question.  Yes, Cory, this ranch will only have girls, but my brother has a truck farm about ten miles down the valley from our ranch and he’s in the process of getting it ready to have twelve Caring Foster Homes for boys.”

 Cory nodded and smiled.  He was glad to hear about the boys.

 Then Julie inquired, “Are you going to keep the horses you already have on your ranch?”

 Vera responded, “Yes, we know that since many girls dream of being able to ride a horse, these horses will be an added blessing to them and might aid in their restoration by giving them an animal to connect with, since people in the past have been abusive.”

 Ted questioned, “What will the couples do on the ranch besides be foster parents?”

 “Some of them will keep their jobs in town, but others will be employed by the ranch for maintenance of the homes, planting flower gardens, outside work like cutting and baling hay, care of the horses, teaching small groups of girls what they need to know from the Bible, and I’m not sure what else might be needed yet.”

 Julie mentioned, “I notice that it’s getting a little late.  Maybe we should save the rest of our questions until our next meeting.”

 Everyone agreed, finished their refreshments and thanked the host couple before leaving for their homes.  Ted and Julie helped the hosts with the chairs and thanked them.

 On the way home Julie chuckled and stated,  “It’s fun having Cory in our small group.  He has so many interesting things to say and he did that math problem so quickly in his head even though we’ve just started multiplication.  At school I remind myself to not show favoritism, but he is such a special student!

  Ted agreed and then asked, “Did you hear Vera mention maintenance of the homes?  Maybe this is where my handyman skills could be used.”

 “I did hear that and it clicked in my brain,” said Julie.  “Let’s pray about it some more when we get home.  Maybe next week we’ll get more information about the plans they have.”

 

 At the ranch on Wednesday after supper, Oscar and Vera finally had some time for her to tell him about Tuesday’s small group.

 Vera commented, “I was truly pleased with the interest so many people at the group showed by coming to ask questions.  They were all good questions.”  She repeated as many as she could remember.  “I really liked Cory’s question.  He’s a nice boy.”

 “Yes he is!  He seems so grown up for a third grader.  He has already been a good soul winner since God healed his legs last summer and I would bet he will continue.  I’m glad he gets to be in the church school this year.”

 Vera agreed, It is indeed a good place for him!”

 

 In Pine City on their next date, which was a Friday evening, Nathan and Esther went to a concert to enjoy some classical music.  They enjoyed the music a lot and discussed it later at a coffee shop that also sold hot cinnamon apple cider, which had become a favorite of theirs since neither of them liked coffee.

 She asked, What did you think of the pianist.”

 He was very accomplished, and I especially liked the Mozart pieces he played.  Do you play the piano?” he inquired.

 Yes, since I was a child, but I’m nowhere near as good as he was.  That’s why he was up on stage instead of me,” she laughed.

 Well, I’m glad it was not you up there, because I enjoyed sitting next to you while we listened,” he said warmly.

 I liked sitting next to you also.  I’m glad we both like classical music.  It’s so much more fun to go and enjoy things together.”

 Yes, it’s extra fun to enjoy things together with you.  I’d like to hear you play the piano sometime.  Maybe we could go visit your parents sometime and I could listen to you play that beautiful old-fashioned upright piano in the living room,” he suggested, “You and they don’t have to cook for us either, because I’d like to take you out to eat before we go there,” he said.

 What a good idea.  I’ll look forward to it,” Esther responded.  “Do you play the piano or another instrument?”

 Not piano, but I do play the cello,” he answered modestly.

 Oh, wonderful, then would you please bring it with you and maybe we can play a duet?  If you’ll bring your music, I’ll see if we have something that’ll match it!” she exclaimed.

 It sounds like fun.  Will 6 PM on Wednesday work for you?”

 Esther replied, “Yes, how fancy should I dress for the evening?”

 Just something casual.  Do you like Italian food?” he asked.  She nodded, and then he drove her to her apartment.

 

 Sunday’s songs and teaching were outstanding, and Esther took notes during the teaching time.   It’s a good thing she did, because the announcement made by Vera would have erased it all from her brain.  This way she’d be able look to back later at her notes and review Sunday's teaching time.

 When she and Ruth got home, Esther exclaimed, “Things are happening so fast in my life right now!  I’m having a hard time keeping up with all of it.  As Vera was talking, I could picture myself married to Nathan living in one of those cabins with four girls to love and teach about Jesus.  But we’re not even engaged yet!”

 You’re right, said Ruth.  “But if that’s what Jesus desires for you to do, he will work it all out, including the timing.  You won’t even have to try to make it happen.  Just watch, listen, and do what he says.  Like I always tell you, ‘Relax and trust Jesus.’  He can do it.”

 Thanks, Ruth.  I needed that reminder.  I’ll go read this memo and pray about it, leaving all the details to Jesus,” she promised.

 

 There were many couples reading the memo and discussing the idea together.  A few decided right away that it wouldn’t work for them for one reason or another, especially those who didn’t want to deal with horses or farming.  They prayed for other couples who might decide to become foster parents at the ranch or farm.

 Some of the couples were excited about the possibility, especially those who weren’t able to bear children of their own.  A few had considered adopting a child, but this might be a better option.  Many were unusually nervous about whether they could do a good job.  Others had decided not to bring new children into such a messed up world, but their hearts warmed at the idea of being able to take care of and help some who had been abused.  Many computers were busy showing all these people information on the web site mentioned in the memo.

 

 On Monday, Esther went to her small group and enjoyed listening to other praises and thanks to God for various things.  She was silent though, because her praises were too personal and it wasn’t the right time to share them.

 They sang four beautiful songs today, and the teaching time was about the scriptures that went with them.  First was “From the Rising of the Sun,” which went with Psalm 113:1-3, Praise the LORD.   Praise him you servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.  Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and for ever more.  From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same the LORD’s name is to be praised.  After singing the song, they read the scripture verses out loud together.

 The second song was “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above,”

Colossians 1:15-18.  (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.  For by him all things were created, that are in heaven and in earth, visible and invisible, whether they are thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers.  All things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things and by him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that in all things he might have the preeminence.

 Jeff commented, These verses go so well with this song, because they point out that all things were created by Jesus and HE deserves all praise and glory.  The third verse of the song should be a great help to us as we consider what Jesus desires us to do concerning the announcement and memo we got at church yesterday.  Be sure to rest in the peace and joy his leading gives.”

 The third song was “God Will Make a Way”, Isaiah 43:19.  Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth.  Shall you not know it?  I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.  Jeff explained, “Even though this verse was spoken by God to the people of Israel, we can claim the promise of his guidance and whatever miracles we need for ourselves if we’re doing his will.  Being in the center of God’s will is such a blessing.”

 The last song was “Follow, I Will Follow Thee,” John 1:36b,37, John the Baptist saw Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”  Two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.  Jeff said, “Now find and listen to Matthew 4:18-22. Walking by the sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea, because they were fishermen.  Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’  They immediately left their nets, and followed him.  Going on from there, Jesus saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in a ship with their father, mending their nets, and he called them.  They immediately left the ship and their father and followed him.  When Jesus called these men to be his disciples, they left everything and followed him.  

 “It wasn’t an easy life to follow Jesus while he was here on the earth during his three year ministry.  I’m sure you’ve all read in the Gospels about the life of Jesus and his disciples while he was here on earth, and what it was like.  Then in Acts, there are many stories about how hard life was for his followers.  We’re never promised that our lives will be easy or pleasant, but it’s always worth it to follow and do what we know Jesus is telling us to do.

 The most important word is know.  It’s up to us to listen to Jesus and know for sure HE is the one telling us what to do.  Don’t rely on feelings or your desires.  You have to be sure.  Without that certainty, it would be too hard to obey Jesus.  I think some of you are considering and wondering if being foster parents to four girls at Mercy Valley Ranch, or four boys at Mercy Valley Truck Farm, could possibly be what Jesus is calling you to do.  Keep praying and researching and listening for God's leading until you are sure one way or the other!

 “Nobody’s going to pressure you into doing this.  This project needs ‘volunteers who really feel called to be foster parents, and are willing to take the extra training needed to work with abused children,’ like it says in the memo.  I especially like Isaiah 48:17b, which says, I am the Lord your God who teaches you to profit and who leads you by the way you should go.

 Let’s use our conversational prayer time for silent prayer and listening to what Jesus would like to tell us, or for reviewing what the memo said if you have it with you, or for reading over again the verses from the handout given to you at the last small group.”

 It was strange for it to be so silent for what seemed like a long time, but everyone put the time to good use, following Jeff’s suggestions.  It was even quiet during refreshment time.  Nobody seemed ready to share his or her thoughts yet.

 

 Vera’s small group on Tuesday was a copy of the one on Monday, and they didn’t ask any more questions of Vera at the end of it.  It seemed that everyone needed more time to pray and think about the plans.  This would be a big commitment, not just something for idle curiosity or an interesting topic for conversation.

 Vera was not disappointed that nobody asked more questions.  She understood that they all needed to pray about it a lot.

 Ted and Julie used the time to pray individually for God’s will for them as a couple.  They had looked up the web site and learned many things about being foster parents.  

 When they got home Julie remarked, “Maybe this is where that verse in Isaiah 45:2 comes into our life.  We have some very crooked places God needs to make straight.  I don’t know about the gates and bars, but we really need his help in this decision.”

 Ted responded, “I know what you mean.  How do we become foster parents and you still keep teaching at the church school?”

 “Exactly!  But if he desires for us to do this, he will show us the way to make it work.  It’ll be no problem for him because he’s omniscient.  I like to watch him work things out in order for his will to be accomplished,” she said.  “Just think back at all he has done in our lives during the last year!”

 You’re right.  Let’s get your notebook off the shelf and reread some of those things right now.  It’ll help our faith to grow.”

 She agreed, What a good idea, Ted!  It’ll be like some of the Psalms where the writer recounted the things the LORD had done for the people of Israel when he brought them out of Egypt.”

 After reading some of the miracles and ways God had worked in their lives and in the lives of people in the church, their faith was stronger.

 

 Wednesday evening, Esther was ready and went right down when Nathan called on the intercom at 6 PM.  She had on a casual blue dress with a slightly flared skirt.  It was modest but still accented her shapely figure and shiny black hair.  When she was seated in the front seat, he handed her a red rose attached to a hair clip before closing the door.  While he went around to get in the drivers seat, she pulled down the visor mirror and placed the rose in her hair.  As soon as he was seated, she turned to face him with a smile.

 Ah!  Just as I told you, any red flower would look nice with your shiny black hair, but you looked lovely before attaching the flower.”

 Esther responded, “Thank you for the compliments and for the beautiful red rose and that it was already fixed so I could put it in my hair.  The red and black do go remarkably well together.  You look exceptionally handsome yourself, as you always do!”

 Nathan thanked her and they had a quiet drive to the Italian restaurant.  When they were seated inside, he commented, “I like the ambiance of this restaurant.”

 So do I, and I wonder if there are any like it in Italy.  Maybe it was copied from the real thing over there,” Esther mentioned.

 After a moment he inquired, “Have you ever been to Italy?”

 No, in fact I’ve never been out of the United States.  Have you been to Europe or any other foreign country?” she asked.

 He replied, “No, the furthest we ever traveled was from our city to the Yardley Dude Ranch.  But I’m so thankful we did, because it’s the place I met the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.  I fell in love then, and have loved you ever since.  I love you even more, now that I’m getting to know you better.”

 The waiter came at just that moment with water and menus, but as soon as he left, Esther looked at Nathan and smiled warmly.  “Thank you, Nathan for your abiding and growing love.  I had a crush on you, off and on back then, and as I’ve gotten to know you better the last several weeks, I like you more and more every time we do something together.  Maybe my love grows more slowly than yours did, since at first mine was only a crush.”

 He responded, “Dearest Esther, please forgive me.  I didn’t mean to push you or get you to say you love me before you’re ready.  Take your time.  I’ll wait patiently for however long it takes.”

 Nathan, I appreciate your apology but there’s really nothing to forgive.  I didn’t feel pushed, and I like knowing that you’ve loved me for so long and that it’s growing.  I am a privileged woman to have a love like yours.  I’ve never even heard of another woman who has had that in her life.  I enjoy basking in your love while I become better acquainted with you and my love for you grows.  Now we better choose what we’re going to eat before the waiter comes back for our orders,” finished Esther and they both smiled.

 Choosing didn’t take long so they were ready when the waiter returned.  After he left Nathan stated, “I enjoy listening to you because you’re so articulate and able to express what you think and feel.  To me it’s like listening to delightful classical music.”

 Thank you for another beautiful compliment.  You’ve become very eloquent in expressing yourself.  I’m glad you’re not shy like you were in our teens.  I like hearing you talk,” she replied.

 Nathan responded, “Thank you, Esther.”  Inside, he was ever so grateful he had taken those classes on communication.

 Their salads arrived and he gave God thanks for the food.  They ate for a short time in comfortable silence until Esther asked, “Do you have a favorite kind of food?”

 He answered, “Home cooked meals are my favorite.  I miss my mother’s cooking.  I visited them often before I moved.”

 Next she inquired, “How are your parents?  Do you call or correspond often?  I like living near mine.”

 My parents are doing well,” he replied.  “I call them at least once a week, and we do some email correspondence.”

 Good, would you ask her if she’d scan the recipes she knows you like and send them by email to you?  Then if you’d print them out you could give me the copies and I can practice making them so I’ll be good at it when we get married,” she suggested.

 Wow, Esther, what a nice thing to offer to do for me!” he exclaimed.  “Plus I like the sound of ‘when we get married’ even better.  I’m also pretty sure you have lots of recipes you already know how to cook and I’m positive I’ll enjoy them also, like I did the meal you helped to cook that Friday evening.”

 The waiter came and took their empty salad plates and delivered their main course.  It smelled and was delicious.  As they ate, they discussed different kinds of ethnic dishes and the ones they preferred.  Esther was hoping she could remember the ones he liked better.  All at once it dawned on her that this was the kind of thing people did for people they love and she wondered if she was really progressing that quickly.  She relished the feeling that spiraled through her at the thought of loving Nathan.  As a result she blushed and concentrated on her plate in order to hide her blush.  But then she looked up and saw him studying her.

 She smiled and admitted, “I think my love for you is growing rapidly this evening.  I won’t try to explain it, but I like it.”

 He smiled back very warmly and responded, “I’m glad to hear what you just said.  But don’t rush yourself, just enjoy it.”

 Okay.  Would you mind if we skip dessert here?  I’m sure Mom will have some refreshments for us even though I told her not to do it.  I think I’d like to go there now and play the piano and some duets with you,” explained Esther.

 That’s a good idea.  I’m pretty full right now anyway and I’m ready to listen to some more good music.  I might be a little rusty on the cello since it’s been several weeks since I practiced.”  He called for the check and they were soon on their way.

 Her parents were pleased to see them, and after a little visiting they got comfortable and Esther started to play.

 She played an excerpt from the Third Movement of Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 27”, and “Sonatina in G Major” by Beethoven.  After those two pieces and the applause, she turned around on the bench and stated, “We have a surprise for you.  Nathan plays the cello and he’s going to bring it in from the car and play a couple pieces for us.  Then we’ll try to do some duets together.”

 Nathan went and brought in his cello.  He played J S Bach’s “Minuet in G Major” and then Mozart’s “Allegro in B-flat Major.”  More applause, and then they checked through his music and hers.  When they were ready, they tried an easy one first, called “The Cellist” by Scovill.  It worked well, so next they played “Voice of the Heart” by Gael.  

 William and Anna applauded and then Anna said, “That was lovely, and we really enjoyed it.  Thank you both.  Now, Esther come with me to the kitchen.  I know you said to not have refreshments, but I just got a new recipe I wanted to try, so I need you two to tell me how it tastes.”  When they got inside the kitchen, Anna whispered, “How’s it going with you and Nathan?  It looks to me like you two are getting pretty close.”

 Don’t worry, Mom.  I’m taking it slowly like you advised, but I’ll admit that I like him better every time we’re together.  Tonight in the restaurant I realized I am feeling love for him, but he told me again that I don’t need to hurry, and he will be patient and not push me,” Esther whispered back.

 Anna nodded and they carried the refreshments into the living room where Anna received applause for the new recipe.  Then it was time for Nathan to take Esther back to her apartment.

 When they reached the apartment Nathan asked, “Would you like to go horseback riding at the dude ranch on Saturday morning and then spend some time visiting with Vera and Oscar.  I asked them today if it would be all right to do that even though we aren’t paying guests, and they said it would be fine.  They’ll look forward to our visit too.  We didn’t get a chance today to talk about Vera’s announcement at church on Sunday or the teaching time at the small group Monday.  Could we go walking at the rec. center tomorrow after supper and discuss it while we’re walking?”

 “Those are brilliant ideas,” Esther replied.  Then we can ask Oscar and Vera any questions we might have, after we ride on Saturday.  I’ll be very interested to hear your thoughts about Vera’s plans.  I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about them.”

 I have been too.  Would 7 PM be a good time to pick you up?”

 Esther answered, “Yes, that should be just right.”

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Matthew 18:2,5, Jesus called a child to him and set him in the midst of them. …  Whoever

shall receive one such little child in my name receives me.

 

 Cory’s parents, Greg and Oralie Iverson, called him into the living room after supper Wednesday, so the three of them could discuss Vera’s announcement, and the things they all had been praying about ever since their small group the week before that.  His mom had already shared with him and his dad the things she learned from the web about being foster parents.

 So they had another time of prayer together before they began their discussion asking God to give them wisdom and guide them.

 His dad questioned, “Cory, do you remember why your mom and I decided to not have any more children after you were born?”

 “Yes, Dad, you didn’t want to take a chance of having another one with a problem like, or worse than mine was,” Cory replied.  “But I’ve always wanted to have a little brother, and it seems even better to maybe have three little brothers who need to learn about and ask Jesus to be their Savior.  I could help you with them.  Maybe the people would let you have just three since you already have me, or maybe they’d have a house with room for five boys instead of just four.”

 His mom commented, “I can tell you’ve been thinking and praying about this project, Cory.  Did you hear me when I read about the problems and hard work it will involve?”

 Yes, Mom, but Jesus will help us with all those things.  This would give me a chance to teach my little brothers all the ball skills Dad taught me.  We could choose ages as if you had one baby a year after me and we’d have a nice big family,” Cory explained.

 His dad inquired, “Do you really want to give up your place as an only child with all our attention and things we get for you?”

 Cory replied, “Well, I do enjoy having you all to myself, and I appreciate all the things you get for me and especially all you did for me while I couldn’t walk.  I know I’ve been treated very well, but I feel sorry for those boys who are abused and I would like to be able to do something for Jesus who did so much for me!”

 His mom was laughing and crying at the same time as Cory understood she did, off and on.  “Cory, you’re such a special son to us.  I’m amazed at your generosity.  We agree that we would like to be able to serve Jesus and are glad you want to also.”

 I was figuring out some ages just now,” said his dad.  “You’re eight and are in third grade.  If we got four boys younger than you we could have two who are seven, and the other two would be six and five.  Two would need to be the same age so they could all be in the church school and you mom could volunteer all week.  Each day she’d be in a different classroom so she could see how each boy is doing, including you.”

 Wow, Mom, that would be a big job for you.  Are you sure you’d want to do it?” Cory asked.  She nodded and he continued,  “Then you’d still have to come home and cook supper and take care of all of us.  But Dad and I can help.  I’d be the oldest brother and could teach them how to help also as they get older and they’d know they’re loved and won’t be abused in our caring foster home.  I feel so sorry for them because they’ve never known the love of parents like I have.”

 His dad said, “We’re sorry for them too, but we must never tell them that, or even call them foster kids.  We need to be like a regular family.  It’s kind of like when you were in the wheelchair, and you didn’t want people to pity you.  You didn’t need or want pity.  You just wanted to be as normal as possible.”

 I understand what you mean.  Thank you for explaining it to me.  You are the best dad and mom any boy could hope to have and I guess I’d like to share you with them,” he responded.

 His mom replied,  “That’s really nice of you, Cory.  I think that since we all have the right motives and can work together on this project like we have been, then God will help us with all the problems and hard things that’ll come to us.”

 At that point, his dad declared, “Then we’ll volunteer for a place at the Mercy Valley Truck Farm!  It’ll also give me a chance to pursue my interest in farming.  We might be one of the couples God gave the word of knowledge to at the small group meeting.

 She agreed, “I was thinking about the same thing.  Isn’t God wonderful to give us guidance for our lives and how to serve him?”

 Cory exclaimed, “Yes!  This is going to be an adventure!”

 

 Just after supper and cleanup on Thursday Ruth asked, “Esther, what was your small group about on Monday?”

 Esther gave her a quick rundown.  Ruth nodded and remarked, “It seemed strange to have a silent prayer time instead of the usual, but it was probably a good idea for those who might be considering Vera’s plan.  I admit I’m amazed that Oscar and Vera would give up a good paying dude ranch in order to help abused girls.  I’d like to hear more about it from them.”

 I told you about our plans for tonight and Saturday morning.  Would you like me to ask Nathan if you can join us on Saturday?”

 Ruth responded, “I would like to, but I don’t wish to crash your date.  I wonder how Nathan would feel about it.”

 Well, I’ll ask him and I think he will be honest.  I’d like you to come, because I know how much you enjoy Oscar and Vera and horseback riding too.  It could be one way we could show you our appreciation for all the double dating you did with Felix and us.  I know Nathan’s sincerely grateful that you agreed and followed through.  As I get to know him better I can tell that he’s a very special person.  He’s not shy anymore either,” added Esther.

 Just then the intercom signaled that Nathan was there, so Esther grabbed her coat and hurried down to go with him.

 When they got inside the rec. center, they put their coats and her purse into a locker and started walking.  

 Nathan started the conversation.  “I’d like to hear what you’re thinking about Vera’s announcement, before I tell you my thoughts, because I don't wish to influence you.”

 Oh, Nathan, I’ve been so excited about what she announced!  It sounds like a dream come true.  I’ve always dreamed about living on a ranch outside of the city.  I never thought it could possibly be their ranch.  But that’s not the only reason I’m excited.  My dream and your desire to help abused foster children, which is now also my desire, have intersected in a way that could only have been orchestrated by God.  I know from my research that it won’t be an easy job for us, but I’m already committed to do it.  If we can qualify for it, I’d like for us to volunteer,” she said.

 “Wow, Esther, I’m just about blown away by your response!” he exclaimed.  “We’re thinking so much alike!  I’m not sure of the timing, but first we’d need to get married, and have a couple months to live as husband and wife and do the training before we can take in four girls to love and care for and teach them about Jesus.”

 She exclaimed, “I’m even more excited now that you’ve told me how you are thinking!  God will help us work out all the details.”

 He agreed with her last statement and then suggested, “Let’s go sit in a quiet area out by their fireplace so we can talk some more.”

 She nodded and he held her hand for the first time as they walked together.  Nobody else was sitting there and they found a couple seats facing each other.

 Nathan, my love for you is growing very rapidly.  Just last night I assured Mom that I was taking this slowly, so I think we still need to wait awhile before we announce our engagement.  Ruth knows we’ll be getting married, and I think we can tell Oscar and Vera on Saturday, but let’s give Mom a little more time.  I’ll call her more often and drop little hints.  Then I’ll find a time to go talk with her so she won’t be shocked with the news,” explained Esther.

 I understand.  Parents need for us to honor them and that’s just what you’re doing.  They taught you well,” he replied.

 Thank you.  Now I have a question for you.  Could Ruth join us for our date this Saturday?”  She explained their conversation.

 “Yes!  I think it’s a super idea!  I’d like to be able to show her my gratitude for all she has done for us.  Besides, she can give credence to what we say to Oscar and Vera, because she knows many of the details of our courtship and discussions so far.  See, God is already working out the timing!” Nathan exclaimed.  “I’ll ask them tomorrow if it’s okay for Ruth to come and let you know.”

 That’s wonderful.  I’ll look forward to your call, and then to our horseback ride and visit with the Yardleys,” replied Esther.

 

 Friday was the fourth date for Felix and Sunny.  Last Friday, they had gone to the game arcade and out to have some herbal tea afterward.  Today he took her to the Healthy Eating Restaurant since it had become one of his favorites.  His reservation got them seated rapidly in a cozy booth while the rest of the line was still waiting.  It didn’t seem fair, but it was nice.

 After the waitress took their orders, Felix asked, “I’m wondering what you’ve been thinking about Vera’s announcement on Sunday and the small group teaching on Monday.”

 Sunny replied, I’ve been thinking and praying about it a bunch!  I have the advantage over many people in the group, because of our first four by four ministry and the fact that you told us your background that evening.  Plus, Esther has told me about how the other three abuses we interrupted could not have been a coincidence.  Then there was your realization and your honesty about it, and how you graciously bowed out of the project you and Nathan had.  So I know what she meant when she gave her praise on Monday.  She’s now completely at peace because she knows what God wants her to do.  I wish I had her same peace.”

 Felix responded, “I know what you mean.  Nathan told me what Esther had said about her praise and I’m very glad for her.  Nathan has always been sure that God wants him to be a foster father to be able to help more children the way his family helped me.  Although I have to admit that I fear being a father at all, because maybe the way my dad was, could have been passed on to me somehow.”

 Their salads came right then and Felix gave thanks for the food before they started eating.  Then Sunny expressed, “I really don’t think it’s a genetic trait.  Some people just do NOT want to control their own anger.  They feel a desire to lash out and make others feel as bad as they do.  What did Nathan tell you about your fear?”

 “The same thing you just did.  Thank you Sunny for validating what he said.  I worried that he was just trying to make me feel better.  Jesus, thank you for removing that fear!  I’m now willing to be a foster father if it’s your will for me,” Felix prayed.

 “You’re a courageous person, Felix.  I’m sure God has big plans for you,” Sunny encouraged him.

 Thank you.  I wonder if God had our four by four group interrupt those four abuse situations for more than just Esther’s benefit.  Maybe it was a call to all four of us,” Felix speculated.

 “You could be right.  There were four of us and it happened four times.  I never thought it could be for me since Esther took it for herself.  I think I better get busy and do some research on being a foster parent, and pray about it all some more,” admitted Sunny.

 Their main course arrived just then and they enjoyed the fresh delicious healthy food they were served.  After the meal, they ordered dessert and while they waited for it they talked and prayed some more about whether to be foster parents.  They weren’t ready yet to even think about who other parent would be for each of them, since they had been dating for such a short time.

 

 Nathan called on Friday evening, “Hello Ruth and Esther, the Yardleys would love to have Ruth join us and even invited us all to stay for lunch and another ride if we desire.”

 Ruth exclaimed, “How nice of them!  They’re some of my favorite people.  I’ll call and tell her that we’ll bring a salad for lunch, and I’ll drive tomorrow so you two can sit in the back and converse.  It’ll be fun to play chauffeur tomorrow.”

 Nathan laughed and gave her his address.  “I’ll be ready to have you pick me up at 9 AM.  This will be a nice change for me!”

 Esther joined in the laughter and added, “I’m really looking forward to this outing.  We’ll see you tomorrow.”

 Oh, I just realized,” remarked Nathan, “we won’t be back in time to do our four by four ministry with Felix and Sunny.  I’ll take care of telling him, and he can call her.  Maybe they can have another date.”

 

 After their two foster girls were in bed on Friday evening, Ian and Yolanda had time for a private discussion.

 Ian started with, “I enjoyed going to supper at Jeff and Karen Spencer's home the other day to answer their questions.  Then when Vera made her announcement on Sunday, I started thinking about the possibility of joining the project at their ranch.  Do you have any thoughts about it one way or the other?”

 Yolanda responded, “Yes, I’ve been praying about it all week, every so often.  It would probably be easier for us to become a part of the group of Caring Foster Homes than for others who don’t already have any foster children.  And we both like horses a lot. But, I’ve also been wondering what our two foster girls would think about the idea.”

 Yes, it would impact their lives in a big way, so we’ll need to discuss the project with them.  They’ve heard all the teachings and the announcement just like we have, but they haven’t commented on any of it,” mentioned Ian.

 Yolanda agreed, “I’ve been listening this week to see if either of them would mention the idea in any way.  Maybe they’re so well integrated into our family that they don’t see themselves as foster children any longer.  That would be great for all of us, but the balance would definitely be upset if we bring in two more girls.”

 Well, let’s have a family meeting after breakfast tomorrow so we can talk about all this together,” Ian suggested.

  I like the idea of a family meeting,” she replied.  “The girls have gotten used to our meetings and I think they’ll share their feelings openly,”  They prayed some more about it before their own bedtime.  It was a big job with just two girls.  Were they really feeling up to adding two more?

 

 After Timmy and Mary were asleep, Don and Anita Ross prayed together earnestly again for all the people in their congregation and Church #7 who were seeking God’s will and guidance about Vera’s and her brother’s announcements on Sunday.  It was a big decision for some of them.

 Then Don mentioned, “This reminds me of the week after all the churches announced the plans and opportunities caused by the way the church was growing so fast last fall.”

 “Yes, we felt an extra burden to pray for all the people who were making decisions then.  God worked out everything in his

all-knowing way and it was fine.  The same will happen this time.  But sometimes it’s hard to pray and wait patiently.”

 “You’re right, my dear wife.  I’d like to be able to help them, but I wouldn’t know what to say.  I need to leave it up to our Father who always knows best.  I’m glad we can pray for them,” said Don.

 She smiled at her dear husband and nodded.

 

 Friday evening, after telling Felix they wouldn’t be back in time tomorrow for their four by four group ministry Nathan asked, “Felix how are your dates going with Sunny?”

 He replied, “Really well.  We find a lot to talk about, tell jokes and find humor in many places.  She’s fun to be with, and I think she’s enjoying our times together also.”

 Nathan commented, “I noticed that she studies you during small group, and she smiles a lot.  I think she’s impressed.”

 Really?  I’m not feeling very sure of myself about dating.”

 You don’t have to feel sure of yourself, just feel sure about the fact that Jesus is leading you and HE is in control,” said Nathan.

 You’re right of course,” Felix replied.  “I’ll pray some more about all of it and trust Jesus.  How are you doing with Esther?”

 Nathan smiled and responded, I’m more impressed with her and more in love every time we do anything together.  She even told me her love for me is growing, so I’m feeling hopeful.  We’ve even discussed being foster parents and volunteering for a home at the ranch.  We’re not engaged yet because she needs to let her mother see that we’re moving slowly enough to really get to know each other.”

 Felix responded, “Oh Nathan, I’m so happy for you.  You are just right for each other.  It’ll be a great marriage!”

 

 Sara and Candy were always glad for Saturday and Sunday with no school and were making some plans about things to do.  About half way through breakfast, Ian announced a family meeting just as soon as they all helped with the cleanup.  The girls smiled at each other and nodded their agreement as if they had been expecting a meeting.  It didn’t bother them to postpone their other plans.

 Ian opened the meeting with a short prayer and then said, “We’ve been wondering what you girls have been thinking about the announcement Vera made on Sunday and about the teaching time at our small group on Monday.”

 Candy motioned for Sara to go first, and she explained, “We’ve been thinking and discussing and praying about it all week, but have been waiting for you to ask us.  Since you are the parents, we didn’t want to make suggestions.  But we decided that we’d be willing to do whatever our new parents, think is best.”

 Then Candy nodded and added, “We have some ideas, but we’d like to hear what you’re thinking first.”

 “Thank you both for honoring us as your new parents.  We appreciate the way you respect us,” he replied.  Then he told them about what they had discussed last night.

 Yolanda commented, “We all need to understand the added work and stress two new girls would add to our family, because they’ll be like you were at first.”  

 Ian added, “Both of you adjusted to the new family and ways of doing things quickly and we feel like a family now, which is exactly what we desired.  We might all feel out of balance until they become integrated into our family.”

 Candy was sitting on the edge of her chair waiting for a chance to share some of their ideas as soon she could.  “We were thinking that since you get to choose the ages of the girls, it might be a good idea to have them be our ages so we could help each other with our homework and only ask you two when we can’t figure something out together.”

 Yolanda responded, “That’s a good idea, Candy.”  Then motioning to Sara she asked, “Do you have some additional ideas to share?”

 Sara answered, “Yes, we were also thinking that since we know how this family works, we can do extra things to help you out, and do whatever we can to help the new girls adjust.  Plus it’ll be a good chance to be silent witnesses with our lives until we’ve earned the right to tell them our stories and testimonies.”

 Ian exclaimed, “We’re so proud of both of you girls!  You’ve listened to the Sunday and small group teachings very well and to our own home Bible studies too.  You are both growing into mature Christian young ladies.”

 Yolanda added, “Yes, we think you’ll be terrific examples for the two new girls as well as the other girls who’ll be at the ranch.”  Both girls smiled and thanked Ian and Yolanda.

 Ian mentioned, “We, as your new dad and mom would continue to work at Discount Mart.  Our vehicle is big enough that we can drive four girls to school and pick them up afterward so all six of us can go home together and you won’t have to ride the bus.”

 Sara smiled and cheered.  Wonderful, I’m glad, because riding the bus is something I was not looking forward to doing.”

 Yolanda continued, “We’re glad you like that idea.  Also, we heard that Vera’s ranch is in a beautiful valley and they have horses we can all ride once in a while if you like.”

 The girls looked at each other in pleased surprise, and Candy declared, “That would be an enormous added benefit.  I’ve always wanted to be near horses and be able to ride one.  If it’s time for the vote on this issue, my vote is YES!”

 Sara emphasized, “I vote YES also for all the reasons we’ve just stated, plus it’ll be very good to move out of this city and away from the memories that sometimes come back.”

 Ian and Yolanda smiled and declared, “We vote YES too!”  It was wonderful to be in unity as a family.

 

 Saturday was a beautiful day at the ranch with sunshine and a few puffy clouds.  The ladies dressed warmly since the first ride might be very cool, but they were used to it from their weekend trips to the dude ranch.  Nathan and Esther enjoyed sitting in the back, where they talked about some questions they wanted to ask, plus what age they’d choose for the girls they’d nurture.

 Before their walk in the rec. center, Esther had obtained a booklet about the church school.  After reading it herself, she had given it to Nathan so he could read it.  Therefore, they agreed that it would be very good if they’d be foster parents to girls who were all six years old, so they could attend the rest of first grade and on through third grade at the church school.

 Oscar and Vera greeted them as if they were paying guests and had them come in for hot herbal tea in the dining room with the spectacular view of the mountains.

 Vera suggested, “Since it’s still so cold this morning, how about a one hour ride in the inside ring so Ruth and Esther can get reacquainted with their favorite mounts?  Then we can come back in here to warm up and answer your questions before lunch.”

 Ruth answered for them all, “It sounds like a fine idea.”

 So they bundled back up and went to get the horses.  Several of the dude ranch guests joined them for this morning ride.  Each person did a good job of getting a horse ready to ride.  Then they led the horses into the inside riding ring.  Everyone mounted up and walked the horses for five minutes before riding them at their other gaits.  

 Then of course they turned them around and went the other direction to help keep the horses in good condition.  After having the horses walk for ten minutes to cool them down, they led them back to the tack room to reverse the process and the horses were taken back to the pasture.  After lunch they would choose a different horse so more of them would get exercised.

 Vera stated, “You see, I had an ulterior motive by inviting you to come ride today.  We don’t have as many guests in March, and the horses are getting lazy.”  They all laughed with her.

 But Esther was thinking, “I’d be glad to volunteer often!” but of course she didn’t say it out loud.

 They settled in the living room to visit and ask questions, which ended up being most of the same questions as at Vera’s Tuesday small group meeting, with the same answers, and Ruth learned more about why they’d give up the dude ranch for this plan.

 In addition Nathan asked, “Will you be needing a counselor who can help the girls work through their individual problems that resulted from the abuse they experienced?”

 Oscar answered, “Definitely, I think we forgot to mention that.”

 Esther inquired, “Will you need someone to do bookkeeping?”

 Vera smiled knowingly, “Indeed we will, and you two would be perfect for those two jobs.  Is there any chance you might be considering marriage in the near future and have you thought about being foster parents to four girls?”

 Esther and Nathan both said “YES!” at the same time and then went on to explain how their interest came about.  Ruth added a comment now and then so Oscar and Vera had no doubt that they had decided these things before hearing the announcement at church last Sunday.  It had all been directed by God.

 Esther explained, “Nathan and I aren't engaged yet, but we know it’s God’s will that we marry.  My mother told me to take it slowly so I want to give her a little more time before we announce our engagement.  So if you see her, don’t tell her.”

 Of course, we’ll keep that quiet until you inform her.  We’re extremely pleased that you want to volunteer,” responded Vera.

 Nathan asked, If we make it through the training and become qualified, licensed foster parents, would you hire me as counselor along with my other jobs here on the ranch including training and care of the horses?”

 Oscar replied, “Yes, indeed!  And in the meantime we hope you’ll continue working for us as you have been.”

 I’ll be delighted to do that.  Thank you!” Nathan exclaimed.

 Esther mentioned, “On the way up here today, Nathan and I decided we’d like to have four first graders so we could put them in the church school where they’d learn so much about the Bible and Jesus.  I’d volunteer there four days a week so I can see how each girl is doing in school, and it would help pay for their tuition.  The rest of their tuition will be paid out of some money I have saved.  So, now it’s my turn to ask.  Would you hire me to be your bookkeeper and to help exercise the horses when I’m not volunteering at the church school?”

 Vera and Oscar looked at each other, smiled and nodded.  She said, “Esther, you are hired to be our bookkeeper and to exercise horses whenever you have the time to do it, and Ruth, you are hereby invited to come here any time you’d like to help in any way you’d like.”

 Esther smiled her biggest smile and thanked them profusely and so did Ruth, grateful that she could be involved.

 By now it was getting close to time for lunch, so the ladies went to the kitchen to finish preparations and get it on the table while the men went to do some odd jobs outside.

 Lunch was delicious as usual and a festive occasion since all of them were feeling excited about the plans for this ranch and their parts in it.  All hands working together made short work of the cleanup details as they talked and discussed more things about the girl’s ranch, and how the remodeling was going.

 Then Oscar suggested, “Shall we take a break and go riding now that it has warmed up.  We’d like to try an experiment this afternoon without the guests joining us.  We’ll each saddle up two horses, one taller than the other and put a halter instead of a bridle on the smaller one.  We want to teach them how to lead and be led so that when we have very young riders, like first graders, they can learn to ride without having to be led by an adult on the ground.”

 What a good idea!” exclaimed Ruth.

 It took a little longer to get two horses apiece ready.  For this afternoon ride, Vera, Ruth, and Esther were each on a larger gaited horse than the ones they had ridden that morning, each leading one of the very small horses.  Oscar and Nathan were on Tennessee Walking Horses leading medium sized Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses.  They started out in the outside riding ring and then went up and down the road.

 After leading those horses for a while, they unsaddled the smaller ones and used their tack for the rest of the smaller horses and gave them a lesson in being led also.  The men also changed lead horses so the other Tennessee Walking Horses would have a chance to lead a smaller horse.  It was an unusually interesting experiment, which worked superbly and the riders enjoyed it.  All these horses are very gentle and well trained.

 After they unsaddled and groomed all the horses, they put them back in the pasture, cleaned the tack, and went back in the house, where Esther said to Vera, “Remember when you told my family and Nathan’s about the evangelistic meeting in that big city?  We all went, except for Jason, and heard the Good News like you had told us at other times.  This time, we each opened up and accepted Jesus as our own personal Savior.  Nathan, his family and Felix did also.  We didn’t even know they were there.  Jason became a believer and was healed just last April.  Thank you, Vera, for caring and sharing the Good News with us.  You might not hear about others you’ve told and later accepted, but there might be many, and I do thank you!  So you already have left an eternal legacy from your ministry as a dude ranch!  And now you’ll be helping many girls who need Jesus so much in their lives!”

 Vera responded with teary eyes, “I appreciate you telling me about your families, Esther.  Plus I thank you and praise you, Jesus.  It’s nice to know that our time as a dude ranch was used by you.”

 Oscar agreed and then remarked, “You all know what the large cabins look like since you’ve stayed in them, but we have one cabin that’s one room bigger than those.  We’d like to show it to you.”

 So they all went with Oscar and Vera and saw the largest cabin right next door to the big house that would have room for four girls with an extra room for a piano, sewing machine, and a guest whenever they’d like, for example, Ruth or Maria.

 Oscar asked, “Which size would be best for you, Nathan and Esther?  We’d like for you to have your choice, since you are our first volunteers.  Go talk it over so you can tell us.”

 It didn’t take them long.  When they came back, Esther exclaimed, “This is another of my dreams come true!  I’ve always longed for a sewing room so I could leave a project out that’s not complete, and be able to close the door on it.  Since it has room for a piano, when we get a used one, I could also use that room to give piano lessons to any of the girls who’d like them.  Of course it will be extra nice to be able to invite Ruth or Maria for a weekend visit too!”

 Nathan agreed and added, “Our visit and rides today have been so special.  We’re excited about our new home and jobs and the four girls we can help.”

 Vera emphasized, “Oscar and I discussed and agree that just as soon as you two are married, you’ll move in here and have a couple months to enjoy as a married couple before you bring in any foster girls.  We’re convinced that you’ll make it through the training and get licensed, so don’t rush your dating or marriage.  God will work out all the timing in his best way.”

 Esther responded, “Thank you both so much.  It will be a great privilege to live here next door to you and get to visit more often than we have in the past.  I know we’ll all be tremendously busy with the girls, and they come first, but I look forward to growing our friendship.”

 Ruth added, “I thank you too, for the invitation to come help when I can.  It'll be especially nice to be able to stay over the weekend with Esther and Nathan and their girls.”

 Nathan continued, “Thank you again for a marvelous day and for hiring us and giving us the choice of a cabin.”

 Oscar responded, “You’re all very welcome.  We forgot to mention, the rent for that cabin will be part of your wages.  The rest of your wages will cover insurance and be enough to buy whatever you need.  We’ll talk more about it another day.”

 Nathan replied, “Wow!  Thank you for that also!”

 Then they all said goodbye and Ruth chauffeured again after thanking Nathan once more for making arrangements for her to join them at the ranch for the day.

 

 In Pine City Felix and Sunny chose to research and pray more about being foster parents instead of having another date again so soon on Saturday afternoon.  They planned instead, to go play table tennis again on Sunday after church and then discuss their findings and insights afterward in one of the many quiet visiting areas in the recreation center.  It was a good plan and it worked out well for them.

 After several games, they sat across from each other and Sunny started their conversation, “I liked the honesty of the websites.  They made it plain that being foster parents would be a lot harder than being normal parents, but that it can also be very rewarding.  Of course they didn’t include the joy the parents can feel when the children accept Jesus as their Savior and he heals their memories and restores their lives to joy filled, useful ones.  I’ve decided that I’d definitely like to be a foster mother.”

 Felix responded, I think you’ll make a good one.  I also decided that I’d like to be a foster father and I agree with the rest of what you said.  You know my background.  The Mendoza family was so good to us and for us, but if we had all accepted Jesus much earlier than after I was out of high school, Jesus would have been able to rehabilitate me much sooner.  My dear sister who is four years older than I am, came to Jesus a year later than I did, and Jesus is still completing the work in her also.”

 After a pause he made himself continue, “Last evening as I was praying, I felt like God wants me to do something.  This might seem very strange to you, but please try it.  Here’s a little piece of paper.  Write your name on the top and then the ages and genders of the children you’d choose to be a foster parent to, and I’ll do the same on my piece.  Then we’ll show each other what we’ve written.”

 When they were finished they traded papers, read what was on it and started laughing.  They both had written two boys who are 10 years old, and two boys who are 11 years old.

 Felix declared, “Oh, wow!  Sunny, this is an answer to my prayer!  Do you remember the story of the servant who went to find a wife for Isaac back in the country where Abraham used to live?

 She smiled and replied, “Yes I do, but what does that story have to do with these papers?

 “Well,” he answered, “I’ve been praying for God to send me just the right woman to be my wife ever since I told Esther my realization about why I liked to tease her and of my decision to bow out of the joint project Nathan and I had.  So last night, I felt like God wanted me to kind of copy what the servant did.  That servant asked God for a very definite sign to show him the correct woman for his master’s son, and God graciously answered his prayer.  I asked God to show me the right woman to be my wife, by having us both put the same gender and ages for the children we’d choose to parent.”

 Sunny gasped, Oh, my!  I am amazed! …  Thank you Jesus for answering Felix’s prayer, and I didn’t even have to water all his camels!”  They both laughed.  “Seriously though, this is an incredible story, but I do believe you,” she said.

 Felix prayed, “Thank you, Jesus.  You couldn’t have made it any plainer to me!”  Then he stood and walked over where Sunny was sitting.  He sat beside her, turned to face her and took her hand in his.  Then he said, “I don’t have several items of jewelry like the man in the story had.  I only have one.”  He placed a beautiful gold bracelet on her wrist, and as he held her hand he asked, “Sunny, will you go with this man,  as it says in Genesis 24:58b?  Will you be his wife and partner in being foster parents to four boys at the Mercy Valley Truck Farm?”

 Sunny answered, “Yes, I will go with you, Felix, and I’ll be your wife and partner in foster parenting at the farm.  Thank you for the lovely bracelet.

 You’re very welcome.”  Then Felix prayed again, “Thank you, Jesus, for Sunny’s willingness.  I know we haven’t known each other very long but I’m sure you will make our love for each other grow so we can be loving spouses.”

 Then he took out a little velvet box and opened it so she could see the charming engagement ring.  He explained, “I’d like to give this to you after I’ve asked your father for your hand.”

 Oh, Felix, it’s lovely!  I think it’s time for you to meet my parents.  I know they’ll like you, because they always smile and say nice things when I tell them about our dates.  My dad will be impressed that you want to ask him for my hand even though I’m already 27 years old.  I know they’ll think this is too fast and too soon, but if you tell them the story of Abraham’s servant and about your prayer and God’s answer to your prayer, I’m sure they’ll agree that this is God’s will, and that you will be a good husband for their only daughter.”

 Felix continued, Thank you for explaining those things. When would be a good time for me to meet them and ask for your hand?”

 She replied, “I'll make arrangements with them to have you come over after supper on Wednesday evening.”

 “Thank you, Sunny.  We’ll be a good match, because God chose us for each other, and he will help us be good foster parents to those boys who need him so much,” concluded Felix.

 

 Esther had called her mom a couple times since Friday and dropped little hints about how things were progressing for her with Nathan.  When she called on Monday she asked,  “Could I come visit for a while on Wednesday evening while Ruth is at her small group meeting?”

 On the other end of the phone, her mother smiled knowing her younger daughter well.  “Of course dear, we’re always glad to have you come visit us.  What time shall we expect you?”

 “Ruth will drop me off on her way and pick me up on her way back.  Then after we visit for a while, could you and I play some duets on the piano like we used to?  It’s always fun and I’ve missed doing it together,” said Esther.

 Anna agreed, I’ve missed playing duets with you also.  I’ll look forward to Wednesday evening.”

 Thanks, Mom,” finished Esther.  “I’ll see you Wednesday.”

 

 Monday evening Felix described the date he and Sunny had had on Sunday afternoon.  Then he admitted,” “Nathan, I’m really nervous about meeting Sunny’s parents and telling them this story before I ask for her hand in marriage.  What if they say NO?  I can’t say that I’d blame them at all.  I’m a virtual stranger from another city who has only known their daughter for about two months.”

 Nathan exclaimed, “Wow!  I think I’d be nervous too!  But you did say she told you they smiled when they heard about your dates.  Besides, she’ll be there and can vouch for you.  Remember Abraham’s servant.  Have the same faith he had.  Her parents are Christians aren’t they?”

 “Yes, they come to church faithfully every Sunday and she sits with them.  She told me they came to the Lord very soon after Esther led her to Jesus.  Her testimony and the change in her convinced them.  That part’s wonderful,” replied Felix.

 Nathan said, “Indeed it is.  I’ll be praying extra hard for you on Wednesday evening.  Just push through your nervousness and see how God will work everything out for his will and his glory.”

 Thanks, Nathan for your prayers and encouragement.”

 It’s my pleasure, Felix, to cheer my best friend on, in his quest to find the best woman to be his wife,” stated Nathan.

 

 Esther and Sunny had a good long visit when she came to eat supper with them on Tuesday.  Ruth was glad to be included and hear about Sunny’s dates with Felix and how quickly they were moving, even faster than Nathan and Esther.

 Sunny quipped, “I never had any idea that I might get involved in a lifelong ministry when I agreed to be in that four by four group!  Felix said he was sure our love for each other would grow so we would be loving spouses.  Somehow that does not sound at all romantic, but I guess Rebekah's adventure wasn’t romantic either.  I would have been scared to death, but she didn’t hesitate.  It worked out well for her as Genesis 24:67 states, she became (Isaac’s) wife, and he loved her.”  

 Ruth remembered, “I think Felix told us the same part of the story on our first ‘double’ date, and they said that Esther would be loved like that.  I think that’s when I first started to trust them.”

 Esther added, “I agree, Ruth.  They had done a lot of Bible study and prayer preparation before even moving here.  I was impressed with both of them.  Furthermore, here’s a good verse for both of us to memorize for our adventures, Sunny.  Psalm 121:8, The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth and even for evermore.  Since we both know we’re in God’s will, this promise will help us have faith for the hard things we might have to go through in order to do his will.  For you that means possibly getting married before you’re sure of your love for Felix.  But maybe your love for him will grow as fast as mine has for Nathan.”

 Sunny smiled and nodded.  “I like that verse and I agree.”

 Ruth excitedly stated, “Maybe you two could have a double wedding!  I’ve always wanted to plan a double wedding for someone.  I can see the newspaper headline now: ‘Best Friends Marry New Best Friends.”  We’ll make it a big fancy wedding the likes of which Pine City has seldom seen.  I’ve been saving money and ideas for this wedding for a long time and I’d be so glad if I could do it for my dear little sister and her best friend and for their new best friends who are also best friends!

 Esther sat there with her hand over her mouth and not a word to say, but Sunny was able to ask, “Are you serious, Ruth?”

 Of course!” she replied.  “Could I do this for you, Esther?  What do you think the men would say to this idea?”

 Esther found her voice and responded, “If this is something you really desire to do, I think Nathan will agree to almost any kind of a wedding as long as I’m his bride.”

 “He sounds unbelievably sweet and very much in love,” declared Sunny, “and I think I’m a little bit jealous.”  But she laughed and continued, “I’m not really, but I am wishing for that kind of love for myself.  Actually I’m very happy for you, Esther.”

 Thanks, Sunny, and I’ll pray Jesus will give Felix that kind of love for you also.  I don’t know what Felix would think about a big fancy wedding, but Nathan could talk him into it.  Here we are planning a wedding and neither of us is even engaged yet!  But I think you and Felix will beat us to it since I need to go slowly for my mother.  I like your idea, Ruth,” Esther finished.

 “I like it too, Ruth, and I think it’s the bride’s choice about what kind of wedding to have.  We might as well have a really memorable one, since it only happens once in our lifetimes.  Plus, Esther and I have been waiting a long time for this moment.  Do we get to be in on what you’re planning so we can enjoy and look forward to it?” Sunny inquired.

 “Absolutely! Ruth emphasized.  “Anticipation is always a big part of the enjoyment and the memories afterward.”

 

 Wednesday evening after supper, Felix arrived to meet Sunny’s parents and to ask her father for her hand in marriage.  He was still very nervous.  But he and Nathan had prayed just before he left, so he walked up to the door with a smile and Jesus to help him push through his nerves.  Sunny greeted him with her big, happy smile and his nerves stayed on the outside of the door.

 After introductions were made, they went into the living room where Felix told them the story of Abraham’s servant, and then about his own prayer, and the way the Lord had answered it.  Then he explained, “I know Sunny and I haven’t known each other for very long and usually people feel that they are in love before they get engaged and married, but other times there are circumstances that don’t allow time for that.  There are other cultures where marriages are arranged by the parents and the couples come to love each other after they get married.  Both of us would be going into this marriage with the knowledge that it’s God’s will for us to get married and be foster parents to four boys at the Mercy Valley Truck Farm.  They need to have their volunteers in place, or else they’ll choose someone else.  In view of all these facts, I’m asking you for your daughter’s hand in marriage.  I promise to take good care of her with God’s help, and I know that God will provide us with the love we need to make this a happy, loving marriage.”

 Sunny’s dad said, “Sunny has told us many things about you. Plus your sincerity and honesty now, help us to understand that you are a good Christian man who will keep his word, so we’ll give you our daughter’s hand in marriage and pray God’s richest blessings on you and your life together.”

 Thank you very much!”  Then Felix rose and walked to the chair where Sunny was sitting and went down on one knee.  “Sunny, will you marry me and trust God to fill us with his love for each other as we work together for him?”

 She reached for his hand and responded, “Yes, Felix, I will be honored to marry such a courageous man.  I know God is already filling us with his love for each other and for the boys.”

 Felix reached into his pocket and withdrew the little velvet box. He opened it and then put the ring on her finger saying, “This ring is my pledge to you.  I have the matching wedding ring ready for our wedding.”  He smiled at her and went back to his seat.

 Sunny rose gracefully and showed the ring to her parents who exclaimed about how lovely it was.  Her mom asked, “Do you have a date in mind for the wedding?”

 She answered, “Felix wanted to have your blessing before we discussed any of those plans.  Therefore, we still need to talk about the date and plans for the wedding, but we’ll let you know just as soon as we decide.  Thank you Dad and Mom for your gracious acceptance of our marriage.”

 They smiled and her dad said, “You’re both welcome.”  Then they all had a nice evening of visiting and getting to know each other better.  Afterward Felix graciously said goodbye and Sunny walked him to the door where he promised to call soon.

 After he arrived back at the apartment he and Nathan shared, he was happy to be able to describe how well the evening had gone for him and Sunny’s family.

 

 That Wednesday evening was a busy time for both couples.  Nathan was at home praying for help for his best friend as he asked for Sunny’s hand in marriage, and for his new best friend, Esther, as she tried to prepare her mother for the time when he would ask them the same question.

 She arrived at her childhood home with a little case of her own nerves, so she asked Jesus to guide her words and help her mother to understand.

 “Welcome, Esther.  Thank you for coming over this evening.  I know you’ve been unusually busy lately and I appreciate you taking time to spend with me,” said Anna.

 “Hi, Mom.  My life was pretty busy before I met Nathan and Felix again at my small group, but since then it has escalated.  So I decided I needed to spend some extra time with you so I could tell you how things are going now that only Nathan is dating me.”

 Esther carefully went through each date and each thing she had learned about Nathan since the first week in January and how her love had grown slowly at first, but lately had been opening into full bloom.  “He’s really an extraordinary person, and I’m glad to be able to tell you that I know God chose him for me.”  

 Then she explained how that had happened, plus all the conversations they had had since then.  When Vera made her announcement in church, I could see myself married to Nathan and us being foster parents to four needy girls.  He will be a wonderful father.”

 Then Esther explained all the details about Oscar and Vera’s plans plus the fact that her brother and sister-in-law had the same type of plans for their truck farm ten miles further down the valley, except it would be for abused boys.  Then she described their date to the ranch on Saturday and ended by saying, “We’ve decided we’d like to volunteer to be foster parents at the ranch.”  She then explained how Jesus had led them to this decision.

 Anna responded, “I’m really not surprised, although it does seem like a very short courtship in my opinion.”

 Esther agreed, “Yes, it is short, but we’ve seen each other often and have had lots of fun together plus many extremely important discussions, so we know each other exceptionally well in spite of the shortness of time.  We agreed that we’ll solve all disagreements by using the steps in the Bible and in Steven Covey’s book.  If I wasn’t sure of God’s leading I wouldn’t feel ready yet, but HE has removed all my doubts.”

 “Good, Esther, since you’re able to say that last statement, then I can accept your plans and agree with you,” stated Anna.

 Thank you, Mom!  Shall we go play some duets now?” Esther asked.  Anna agreed by leading the way to the piano.

 

 Thursday Ted asked, “Julie do you think the church school would let you continue to teach there if you were a foster mother?”

 She replied, “Yes, I know of several teachers who have children of their own.  The school just does not want the year interrupted for the children by a teacher who has to stop teaching because of a problem with her pregnancy.  I understand and agree with them.”

 He said, I do too.  Therefore, listen to this idea, and think about whether it might work for us.  If we would take four kindergarten girls and be their foster parents, we could put them all in the church school for the next three-plus years.  When they get into public school they’ll be ready to be evangelists there.  At the end of each day for fourth and fifth grades, they could come to the church school and help out in your classroom or do homework until it would be time for you to drive all of you home to the ranch where I could be the handyman.  When they get into middle and high school, they can come home on the bus and I’ll be here to care for them until you get home from teaching to help me.”

 She responded, Wow, you really thought through all of your idea and it sounds very workable.  I’ll ask Beth Davis, our school principal, if she thinks it would work to do that.  If we do it, we’d need to set up conferences for each child twice a year, …  OR you could volunteer two days a week in two of the girls’ classrooms and two days the next week for the other two, and so on, while they’re in the church school and thus help pay a little of their tuition.  Therefore, we wouldn’t need conferences since you could see for yourself how they’re doing and share it with me.  That would give you three days a week plus evenings and Saturdays, as needed, to be the handyman at the ranch.”

 Good thinking, my dear Jewel.  I would imagine that with only ten or so houses to do upkeep on, I’d have plenty of time on those three days plus maybe some of the evenings,” Ted observed, and then prayed, “Father, we ask for your continued leading as we figure out how to make this plan work for your glory.”

 Julie agreed with him in prayer, and then commented, “I remember talking before we moved, about the possibility of starting a family after we got settled in Pine City and this church.  At that time we were considering adoption since I can’t bear children.  We’d have a pretty big, instant family if we decide to take care of four kindergarten foster girls who’ll grow up the rest of their childhood in our family.  Plus, the ranch would be such an ideal place to raise a family.  I think we’ll both enjoy working with and riding horses.  It sounds like a huge adventure!”

 Ted stated, “I agree, and it would be the best way to have the big family we’ve always dreamed about.  This way you can keep your teaching job and not have to get day care for infants.  We won’t even have to go through the diaper changing and potty training stages.”

 Right you are!” Julie exclaimed. “Plus when those four grow up and leave home, we can take four more girls and never have an empty nest.”  After a good laugh, they went to cuddle on the sofa.

 

 Thursday evening, Nathan and Esther went to play shuffle board using the stand up tables at the recreation center.

 As they were playing, Esther suggested, “If any of the families have pianos of their own they could send interested children to me for piano lessons when we get a used piano.  Then they can practice in their homes.  I could start with our own four girls since that’s a good age to start learning.  Playing the piano is great for stress relief.  When they learn to play hymns, it would also be good for their individual praise times.”

 Nathan agreed.  “Yes, plus the ones who have no piano to practice on at home, could practice in the game rooms.  As I remember the big house has pianos in both the upstairs and downstairs game rooms.  So the families who’ll be in the big house will have pianos available for their girls and the other families can use those pianos also if they figure out times and a way to do it that’ll work for everyone.  Do you think you will have enough time?”

 I don’t know.  I guess we’ll have to play that by ear and see how my time works out.  Everything will be so much different than what we’re used to in our single lives, since we’ll be going directly from being single to being married for a couple months and then add four girls.  We might only take in one or two girls at a time and let them get settled.  I don’t know what would be the best way.  Do you have any thoughts about it?” Esther asked.

 Nathan replied, “I don’t know either.  It might depend on how many first grade girls need a foster home at that point.”

  Esther commented, I keep thinking about those cute twins in the store on the second day of our four by four ministry.  They looked to be about six years old.  If their dad didn’t reform I’d like for us to take care of them.”

 I agree.  I’ve been thinking about them also and that’s part of the reason I thought about having first grade girls.  The other reason is, that’s the age Felix was when he came to our house.  If a child has been abused, it’s a good age to end the abuse and start their restoration.  It’ll be even better if they’re saved at an early age and Jesus does the restoration.  As I remember, it was harder for Felix’s sister since she was older,” Nathan explained.

 I imagine it would be harder for a child who is older because it has gone on for so long.  I’m glad you’ve had experience with foster children and that you studied counseling in the university.  Our girls will have a great advantage because of it,” Esther surmised.

 Nathan smiled and said, “Our girls … I like the sound of that.”

 Since they were finished playing their third game, they joined hands and walked to a quiet area to visit, and Esther could tell him about her visit with her mom.  Nathan was glad to hear how well the visit had gone for Esther and her mom.  They took time to thank Jesus and pray for ongoing guidance and help as they continued getting to know each other better and made plans for their life together.

 Then after talking for a while longer, Esther looked at him and smiled with all her love shining from her eyes.  Before he had a chance to say anything else she expressed, “Nathan, I love you!  I love you in so many ways now.  I wish I could write a poem, even better than Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, to tell you how much I love you, and in so many ways.”

 He responded, “Thank you, Esther!  Your love is extremely precious to me.  I thank God we’ll have our lifetime for you to tell me and for me to tell you how much we love each other.”  Then he stood up, walked over to her and knelt down in front of her. “My most beloved Esther, I love you too, as you already know.  Will you marry me?

 Yes, Nathan, dear Nathan.  I will be honored to marry you and love you all our lives as we love and work for Jesus.” she said.

 Then he asked, Do you think your mother will be ready soon for me to come ask your parents for your hand in marriage so I can give you the beautiful engagement ring that has been burning a hole in my pocket for such a long time?”

 She laughed and answered, “Yes, I think she’ll be expecting it very soon.  I’ll make arrangements for us to visit with them tomorrow evening after supper.”

 Perfect!  In that case, I’d like us to celebrate by going to supper at the Healthy Eating Place tomorrow before we go to visit with them,” he stated.

 Esther responded, It sounds delicious, and it’s the perfect place for us to go for this celebration since that’s the place we had our first double date.”  She paused and then asked, “Do I get to see the beautiful ring now, or do I need to wait until after you’ve asked my parents for my hand?”

 He laughed and explained, I’m afraid you will have to wait, at least until supper tomorrow, since I decided not to carry it around with me for fear of losing it.  I’ll show it to you at supper and then put it on your finger after they say ‘yes’.  From what you’ve said, I don’t have to worry that they won’t say ‘yes’ when I ask.”  

 

 Jeff mentioned to Karen as they were talking at breakfast on Friday, “We’re almost finished with the remodeling of the upstairs and there’s not very much to do to the downstairs at the Yardley’s ranch.  They’re so excited and can hardly wait to get Mercy Valley Ranch started for the girls.  We’re all hoping that the weather will warm up and it’ll be nice when we start to work outside on the garages and adding rooms to the smaller cabins in a few days.  But of course we’ll work out there even if it’s cold.”

 Do you think you’ll be able to continue your job with the Evans Construction Company if we’re chosen as volunteers at the ranch?” asked Karen.

 I think so,” he replied, “but I think you might need to shorten your hours at Subs are Great so you can be home with the girls until I get home from work and can help you.”

 I agree.”  Next, she inquired, “What ages do you think would be best for us to take care of as foster parents?”

 I was asking that question of the Lord the other day, and the numbers that came into my mind were: two who are nine, and two who are ten.  They’ll all still be in elementary school to start with, and that might be helpful,” he responded.

 “It sounds like a good idea,” she agreed.  “I could drive them to school and then work until just before school’s out so I could pick them up and take them home.  Could you talk to Oscar and Vera and tell them we’re interested in volunteering?”

 Yes, and I’ll also ask them if there might be some kind of job you could do at the ranch, if you’d rather do that instead of continuing at Subs are Great.  The girls could ride the school bus, and you’d have time to sew, bake, and be a homemaker during the time not required for your job at the ranch,” he suggested.

 Karen smiled and exclaimed, “I really like the sound of a job on the ranch!  Plus I look forward to riding one of their horses.

 

 Esther was excited as she waited for Nathan on Friday after work.  “He’s going to show me my engagement ring at supper tonight and then we’ll go see Dad and Mom so he can ask for my hand!  After they say ‘yes,’ he will put the ring on my finger.  I can hardly believe it, Ruth.  I really am going to get married!”

 Do you still have doubts?” Ruth questioned.

 Not after God showed me his will, but before that I sure did.”

 Are you going to talk to Nathan about your wedding plans at supper or sometime soon?  I can hardly wait to get started.”

 Esther responded, Certainly.  I think during supper would be a good time to discuss our wedding plans.  I think he will like them.”

 Just then the intercom sounded and she told Nathan she’d be right down.  He continued being a perfect gentleman, offering his arm and being sure she was settled in the car before closing the door.

 When Nathan was seated beside her, Esther remarked, “I really appreciate your gentlemanly manners.  I know I always thank you when you take such good care of me, but I don’t take it for granted.  I want you to know that I realize I’m getting the best of care from you.”

 He reached over and held her hand.  “I do know that and I always enjoy the ways you show me your appreciation.  It’s a good idea to never take each other for granted.  I love taking care of you and I intend to continue doing it for the rest of our lives!  It’s one of the ways I can show you my love.”

 Esther smiled all the way to the restaurant, quietly reviewing in her mind what Nathan had just said.  She realized again what a special person he was, and thanked God that she’d get to marry him.  She told him her thoughts just as soon as they had parked at the Healthy Eating Place.

 Nathan took her hand again and kissed the back of it.  “Thank you for telling me and for waiting until we were parked to do it.  I appreciate the way you understand that I like it to be quiet when I drive so I can concentrate and keep us safe.  We’re a good match, Esther Beckett, soon to be Mendoza.

 “I agree, Nathan Mendoza, soon to be my husband!  Wow, those statements sound good!” she emphasized.

 “For sure!” he responded as he got out to open her door.

 Their reservation enabled them to be seated quickly, and they couldn’t keep their eyes off each other.  The waiter had to clear his throat to get their attention so he could give them menus.  They smiled and dutifully looked at the menus so they’d be ready to order when he returned with water for them.

 Soon after he left, Nathan reached into his pocket and produced a light blue velvet box that looked like an antique.  He explained as he held it up so she could see, “These rings belonged to my maternal grandmother.  She and grandpa were in love and happily married for over 50 years.  When Jesus took him home, she gave me the rings saying that I could use them for my future wife if she’d like them.  Feel free to be completely honest about whether you do or do not like them.  I won’t feel hurt if you’d rather have new ones of your choice.”

 Esther nodded solemnly as she carefully took the box and opened it.  She felt breathless and at a loss for words as she gazed at the rings.  Finally able to talk again, she declared, “I really, really, really like them.  They’re so well cared for and unique.  The diamond in the center of two colored gems is delightful.  Are those two amethysts?”  When he nodded, she continued, “That’s my birthstone and one of my favorite colors!  It reminds me of the rocks around Lavender Falls.  I’m glad there are some more of them on the wedding ring.  They make a lovely set of rings.  Above and beyond those facts, I’ll be pleased to wear rings that were a part of such an enduring, loving marriage!”

 Nathan was smiling and listening attentively to all she said.  He was delighted that she liked them and with the way she expressed herself.  “Try both of them on and see how they fit.  Grandma was a little smaller than you are so they might need to be resized.”

 Esther carefully removed the rings from the box and slid them right onto her slender finger.  They fit perfectly!”

 “I’m glad.  I’ll be able to put the engagement ring on your finger later this evening after getting your parents’ permission to marry you.  I’m so excited and grateful that God brought us together again after so many years,” he stated.

 “Congratulations!” said the waiter who had been standing there listening to most of their dialog.  “I feel happy when I get to hear such loving conversations and find out a couple’s plans to be married.  Are you ready to order, or shall I give you a little more time to decide?”

 Nathan looked up, and though he was embarrassed to have kept the waiter waiting, he graciously said, “Thank you for the congratulations.  I’m sorry we kept you waiting.  We are ready to order.”  Then he smiled and gave both of their orders.

 The waiter wrote their orders down and said, “Don’t be sorry.  I enjoyed hearing you.  May God richly bless your lives together.”

 Esther thanked him as he left and smiled at Nathan.  “That was nicely handled by you, and it was nice to hear his pleasure.”  Then she took the rings off and placed them back in the box, giving it back to Nathan with a smile.  I look forward to wearing these rings for the rest of my life.”

 During supper they spoke of various topics and then Nathan asked, “Do you have any ideas about what you desire for our wedding?”

 She answered, “As a matter of fact, I do.  Sunny was visiting with Ruth and me just before she and Felix got engaged.  Ruth said she hoped Sunny and I could have a double wedding and that she’d like to plan it for us.  She wants it to be big and fancy and has been wanting to do something like this for a long time, especially for her little sister.”  Then she went on to describe a little of what Ruth had planned.

 “Wow, this is immensely nice of her!” exclaimed Nathan.  “I’m glad you have such a generous big sister.  I’ve seen her generosity many times since January.  Please tell her thank you for me,” he requested.

 I surely will, and she’ll appreciate what you said.  She has helped me so much since the beginning of this adventure.  I’m glad Vera invited her to come help out at the ranch,” she said.

 The same applies for me, because I'd like you two to be able to remain in your close sisterly relationship,” he stressed.

 She responded, “Thank you.  I appreciate your understanding.”  Later she added,  “This food is delicious and your company is delightful.  When I remember how stressed I was the first time we came here and compare it with now, I’m amazed.  I’m very grateful that you and Felix persevered to find me and go through with your joint project.  It has all turned out so much better than I ever could have dreamed.  Thank you, Jesus, for all these blessings and especially for Nathan, my future husband!”

 After a light dessert each, they went to visit William and Anna, who graciously assented when Nathan asked for Esther's hand in marriage.  They both said they had never seen such a splendid wedding ring set in their lives when Esther showed it to them.

 When she got home later she told her sister about all of it and stated, “Ruth, this was one of the nicest evenings of my life.  I really like being in love!  Nathan likes our wedding plans and asked me to thank you for him.  Look at this delicate, beautiful engagement ring!

 Ruth responded, “Oh yes, it is unusual and exquisite.  I’m extremely pleased for you!”

 Nathan was delighted to be able to tell Felix how well the evening had gone for him and Esther, and about some of the things she had said.  Felix was overjoyed for him.

 

 Saturday morning Karen woke up early because she was very enthusiastic about this day.  Jeff had come home from work yesterday with an invitation to lunch, a horseback ride, time to see the Yardley’s ranch, and to visit and ask questions.  She was eager to get up, do as much housework as she could, get a salad made to take to lunch, and be ready to go on time.  So she got up and dressed quietly so as not to wake Jeff.  When he got up later she had accomplished a lot and had breakfast ready.

 She exclaimed, “Oh Jeff, it’s a beautiful day and the forecast is for a warm afternoon!  I’m so thrilled that we get to go to the ranch together.  I’ve been wishing to go with you ever since we decided to volunteer to be foster parents there for four girls.  It’ll be great to get to see the ranch, and spend the afternoon there.”

 Jeff responded, “I agree.  Oscar and Vera are really nice people.  I’m sure you’ll like them.  When Vera heard that you’d look forward to riding one of the horses, she was quick to invite us, and include lunch and a horseback ride.  I’ll enjoy all our time there too, and it will be especially nice to be there together.”

 She smiled.  I’m really grateful for her generosity.  This will be fun.” After a couple minutes she invited, “Come eat breakfast.”

 Later they both helped with the cleanup, Karen continued with her housework and Jeff did some odd jobs around the house.

 They were soon ready to leave and got to the ranch on time.  She was delighted with the drive and scenery in the valley just like all the other visitors had been.

 Jeff, this place is amazing!  I sure hope we can learn all we need to and be able to get our license.  It would be an extra blessing to be able to live in such a wonderful place as this is,” she declared.

 “I totally agree!  We’ll need to let them know how much their generous idea for leaving a legacy will bless us also,” said Jeff.

 The afternoon was everything Karen had wished for, and more.  Lunch was delectable and the horseback ride was exhilarating. They got to look at some of the cabins and got all their questions answered and enjoyed visiting.

 At one point Vera asked, “Karen, do you enjoy gardening?”

 She answered, “Yes I do, very much.  We have a small vegetable garden every year, plus I get to pick flowers to bring into our house from the ones I’ve planted around the yard.”

 Vera smiled hugely.  I’m glad to hear about your gardening.  I also wonder if you’d be interested in teaching small groups of girls about the Bible since most of them will come here with no Bible background.  After you two get your license, we could hire you, Karen, to do some gardening and teach the Bible to groups of girls.  You would be paid as much as you earn at Subs are Great.  This would help make our ranch for needy girls even better because I know I don’t have the talents Jeff has told me you have for teaching.  I also know I won’t have the time to do all the gardening I’d like to get done.  We can do some of the gardening together and become better acquainted that way.”

 Karen was exuberant.  Wow!  I’m overwhelmed and truly appreciative of your kind words and the offer of a job.  I’ll be super happy to accept this job and we’ll work extra hard to be sure to get our license.  Jeff will be glad to keep his job with the Evans Construction Company and help with the girls when he gets home from work.  We’ll both be very happy to be able to live here on this splendid ranch, get to know you both better, and be able to help the girls we’ll parent plus teach small groups of them!  This is incredible and far beyond my wildest dreams!”  Then she prayed,  “Thank you, Jesus, for giving Oscar and Vera the desire to make this ranch into homes for abused girls.  Please help us learn what we need to in order to be good parents and do a good job here at this ranch.

 Oscar continued, “We thank you also, Jesus for your help in bringing this change to the ranch, and for providing the parents you desire to have live here.”

 “Yes, Jesus,” Vera added, “we appreciate the way you’ve already worked in the hearts and lives of the ones who’ve come to visit us here so far and ask questions.  I know you will continue to fill this ranch with families who can work together for your glory.”

 Jeff concluded, “Thank you, LORD, that I get to work here on the remodel of the house and cabins and I can eagerly anticipate coming here to live on this special ranch and help teach four girls about you so you can save, heal, and restore them.  Thank you that Oscar and Vera’s generous idea for leaving a legacy will bless Karen and me also.”

 

 In Pine City on Easter, or Resurrection Day, as this church liked to call it, there were many visitors in church as is often the case, especially since the small group members had handed out many invitations to people in stores, and to acquaintances and friends.

 Ted and Julie noticed that the songs and teaching time were somewhat like they were last year.  But they were even more meaningful this year than last.

 When they arrived home, Julie mentioned that fact and added, “Maybe it’s because we’ve learned so much since then from all the good teachings at church and small group times.”

 Ted responded, I think you must be right.  Doing the foot washing for each other at our last small group and then having communion afterward was also extra special.  I especially liked the song, ‘Celebrate Jesus,’ because it goes so well with communion.  The whole group time helped bring the last week Jesus was here on earth into much clearer focus.”

  Julie nodded and then she commented, “It must have been really difficult for Jesus to wash the feet of Judas, knowing that he was going to betray him.”

  Yes, it must have been,” Ted concurred.  Also, I liked taking turns reading all that happened the week before Jesus resurrection in Luke chapters 19-23.  I don’t know how he could have gone through with all he did that week, but I’m glad he did.”

 I agree!  We have salvation and the blessed hope of heaven as a result, and I’m so thankful!” Julie exclaimed.

 Ted prayed, “Yes, thank you so much, Jesus, for coming to earth to do your father’s will, for suffering and dying on the cross to pay the penalty for everyone’s sins, for being in the grave, and especially that you were raised from the dead.”

 Julie continued, “We also thank you for being in heaven where you intercede for us.  We are eagerly awaiting your return to the earth to take all believers home to be with you forever.”

 Ted added, “Thank you also for all the people who accepted you in all the services today, yesterday and last Saturday at the Christ in the Passover meetings done by Jews for Jesus.  We rejoice that they’ll get to spend eternity in heaven with you.”

 Julie closed with, “Yes, we especially thank you for the privilege of sitting with the Jewish lady we got to lead to the Lord last summer, and that she was there with her family who also came to the Lord because of her witness to them.  Please help all of them to grow and become enthusiastic soul winners for your glory.”

 Then Ted commented, “I thought the scriptures in Hebrews were so appropriate in the teaching today.”

 Julie concurred and suggested, “I did also.  Let’s look them up again right now and would you read them aloud to me?  I have the references here in the notes I took today.”

 I’d like to do that.  I’ll go get my Bible,” he responded.

 Here are some of the verses he read.  Hebrews 2:9a,10,11, Jesus was made a little lower than the angels (when he came to earth as a human to suffer death as the penalty for the sins of people) is now crowned with glory and honor.  For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.  For both he that sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one Father: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brothers.

 Ted went on to summarize verses 12-18.  “Jesus would declare God’s name to his brothers, in the church.  Since his children are flesh and blood, Jesus also took that likeness so that through death he could deliver people in bondage to the fear of death.  Therefore he’s a faithful high priest and can help people being tempted because he was also tempted.”

 Then he read Hebrews 9:13,14,28.  For if the blood of bulls and goats, … sanctifies for purifying the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. …  So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.  And to them who look for him, he shall appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

 Julie mentioned, “I especially liked Hebrews 10:9-12,14,16,17, because they explain so well that what Jesus did was so much better than the old covenant.”

 “I did also, I’ll read it,” Ted agreed.  (Jesus) said, “I come as it is written to do your will, O God.”  He takes away the first (the old covenant that required sacrifice and offerings for sin)  so he could establish the second.  By that will, we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ  (the Messiah) once for all.  Every priest stood daily ministering and offering sacrifices which can never take away sins.  But Jesus, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God. … For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified. … This is the covenant that I will make with them, … I will put my laws into their hearts and in their minds, and their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.

  After he had finished, Julie said, “Thank you, Ted.  That was a very good way to spend part of our afternoon on this Resurrection Sunday.  Besides, I really enjoy listening to your deep voice and good expression when you read.”

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

Proverbs 20:18a, Every plan is established by counsel.

 

 Near the end of their next date, Felix and Sunny discussed ways they could be sure they would have no children of their own, so they could focus on the four foster boys they would be raising.  They listed all the ways people they knew had been using.

 Felix suggested, “Let’s make a duplicate list on another piece of paper so each of us can take a list home tonight and pray about it.  Then tomorrow evening we can talk about it some more.

 I like your suggestion,” said Sunny.  “So far, none of these ideas seems right.  Maybe God will show us a better way.”

 Felix asked, “How would it be if we each write down what we think God shows us and bring it with us tomorrow?”

 I think it would be a good plan,” she answered smiling.

 The next evening they traded papers and read what the other person had written.  They were amazed to find they had both dreamed that night that God had told them not to worry, because they would not have any children of their own by birth.  The foster boys would be their children.

 Wow, Felix!” exclaimed Sunny, “God really is directing us every step of the way.  I’m so glad we prayed instead of using one of the ways this world advocates.  God’s way is so much better!”

 Absolutely!” he declared and then prayed, “God, thank you so much for your clear answer to us about this dilemma.  Now we will trust you and have no worries!”

 Sunny added, “Yes, thank you for making it so clear for us and please continue to guide us in this endeavor.”  Then she stated, “Now that this issue is settled so nicely, I have a question. What’s the procedure to follow in letting your employers know that we’d like to volunteer to live at their truck farm and be foster parents to four boys?”

 Felix responded, “I’ll ask them tomorrow after work so they can set up a time when we both can go visit with them, ask questions and volunteer.”

 Good, I’d like to see what the farm is like and meet the people who are so graciously planning to provide a place for families to take care of foster children,” Sunny commented.

 They had been sitting in the car during these discussions.  Felix took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze saying, “My employers are nice people, and the farm is a remarkably pleasant place. The valley is lovely.  I think you’ll like it there. Now that we made some good plans, let’s go into this game arcade to play video games and have some fun together!  We have needed to be very serious lately.  Now playing together can help relieve some of our stress.”

 Sunny responded, “Yes, let’s do!”

 

 It was time for the training sessions to start for those people who were interested in volunteering to raise four foster children at the ranch or farm.  Some of the small groups had enough people in them who had decided they wanted to volunteer, that they could just stay after the group fellowship time and start the lessons.

 There was usually a lecture about some aspect of being a foster parent or what problems or issues the children might have.  Then there were booklets or pages to take home and read.  These would be discussed at the next meeting.  The first meeting stressed the importance of evaluating whether foster care or adoption would work better for a couple, since that would ultimately work out best for the children also.

 At the next meeting they learned what makes good foster homes.  The parents need to have a real desire to learn about children and focus on doing what’s in the best interest of each child.  They need to be able to empathize with each child and be good listeners, and learn how to work with other people who might be involved in the life of the child.

 Occasionally at some point or another at one of the meetings, a couple would become aware that it might not work for them to be foster parents, so they’d go home and think and pray some more about their decision until they got clear guidance about what to do.  Some of these couples would just try one or two foster children in their present homes.  There was one couple who realized they weren’t really good parent material.  Others came back and finished the meetings with the rest of the group and became great foster parents.  It was a good time to change or continue plans.

 These meetings continued through April and then during May the couples would meet with the pastor of Faith ‘n’ Grace Churches number 4 or 7 for a question and answer session.

 (If you’d like to know more about what would be covered in these meetings, you can look at many websites about being foster parents.)

 

 The Saturday after Jeff and Karen’s visit to the ranch, Ted and Julie enjoyed an afternoon at the Yardleys’ ranch much like they had.  Julie had talked to the principal and gotten her agreement and support.  So Julie would be able to keep her job at the church school in town, and Ted would be hired as the handyman for the ranch three days a week and in the evenings and/or on Saturdays as needed, with a salary that matched what he was making at the body shop.  

 Since he’d be volunteering at the school two days a week, it would take care of some of the tuition. The rest of the tuition would be paid by the fund set up by the Yardleys’ trust.  This arrangement would give Ted and Julie the money needed to pay for rent, food, insurance and other needed items.  Their car would be able to carry all six of them while the girls were small, but they’d start saving money to buy a van for later.

 Both of them were delighted with the way things worked out and they’d give wholehearted commitment to their training and preparation and for accomplishing their new adventure.

 When they got back to their apartment, Julie called Anita and told her of their plans.  Then she asked her if she could put together a list of some of the songs and Bible teachings she used with her day care children who were four years old so she could teach them to their kindergarten girls.

 

 Sunday after church, Maria joined them for their usual walk in which they’d visit and have their three by three ministry time at the inside shopping mall.

 At one point Julie mentioned, “When we get moved up to the ranch, most of our small group will be moving up there also.  We’ll continue to be the leaders there and you’d be welcome of course, but I’m not sure how it would work out for you, Maria.”

 She replied, “I’ve been thinking about that possibility.  It would be fun for me to see how everything goes for the people moving to the ranch, but I wouldn’t really belong in that group.  So I talked to Ruth and her leaders, and they’ll let me join their group.  I can even join Ruth’s three by three ministry group and make it a four by four group.  Pam’s a member of that group.

 Oh, you’ll like her too,” remarked Julie.  “I’m glad for you!”

 Ted exclaimed, It’s a wonderful plan for you, Maria!  This way you won’t have so far to drive at night alone.”

 Julie added, “Perhaps you can come visit us at the ranch after we get settled with our instant big family.  Let’s play it by ear and see how it might work out.  I truly desire for us to be able to continue our friendship.”

 I agree!” Maria exclaimed.  “And I’ll be praying for you as you work for Jesus.  I’m very much in awe of all the people who are going to become foster parents at the ranch or the farm.”

 That same evening Ted and Julie had Tony Valdez come to their apartment for supper and a visit.

 Julie asked, “Tony, how’s your job going at Fiesta Restaurante? We haven’t had time lately to talk with you as often.”

 He replied, It’s going very well, thank you.  And it’s no wonder you haven’t had time with all the planning and training you’ve been doing to get ready for your new lives as foster parents at the ranch.  I know you’ll both do excellent jobs there.”

 Ted responded, Thank you, Tony.  We’d appreciate your prayers, and maybe you’ll be able to come visit us after we get moved and settled in with our four girls.”

 Tony laughed, “Since the road to the ranch is pretty steep, I think it would be a long hard ride for me on my bicycle.  Perhaps you could bring your four girls and have supper after school sometime at Fiesta Restaurante so I can see and meet them.”

 Ted laughed too.  “Now there’s a better idea for sure!  Have you and your partner started up your ministry in the park again or is it still too cold outside?”

 “It’s still too chilly for us and for the children, but in another month we’ll try it,” he answered.

 Then Ted and Julie told him all about the ranch and Ted’s new job there plus all their other plans.

 On Monday, Julie hurried over to ask one of the kindergarten teachers if she could borrow the lesson plans for the first half of the year so she could help her girls get caught up with the rest of the class.  The teacher was glad to be able to help out this way.

 

 Sunny and Esther spent Saturday morning with Ruth making wedding plans in earnest.  First they went to the computer and looked up many sites about planning a double wedding.  They found out a lot of facts that would help keep them from making mistakes.  

 Esther exclaimed, “I never realized there were so many things to consider in order to have a double wedding!”

 Sunny agreed, “I didn’t either, but I think Ruth is up to the challenge.  This is going to be fun and interesting.”

 Thank you, Sunny,” replied Ruth.  “I’m looking forward to this!”

 Esther commented, I noticed the web mentioned several times that it works best when the people involved have very close bonds.  In our case, I think it’s extra neat that the women are best friends and so are the men.  The decisions should be easier to make this way.”

 Very true,” and Ruth next instructed, “Esther and Sunny, it’s time for you to give me the pages you wrote describing the things you’d like to have included in your wedding.”

 They handed their papers to Ruth who read both of them and then looked up like a stern teacher and said, “Now hold it you two, who copied who?  Your papers are almost identical!”

 Esther defended them like a student would, “Honest, Ruth, we both did them separately in our own homes.”

 Sunny added, “We really did, Ruth, but I’m not surprised that they came out to be so similar.  Esther and I planned out that wedding so many times when we visited each other that we both have it memorized.  Would you like to include any of those ideas in a double wedding for us?”

 Of course I would!  I already had some of those ideas in mind for your double wedding anyway.  These will just make it easier and better!” Ruth exclaimed waving their papers in the air.  “You’ll both need to ask your intendeds for their list of people to invite and who and how many attendants each one would like to have.  Get together after your four by four ministry time this afternoon and set a date for the wedding.”

 Esther responded, “Okay.  This will be interesting.  I wonder how many people will want to travel all the way here from ‘wherever’ to attend or be in their wedding.  I’d assume they’d have many of the same people each because they’re very much like brothers besides being best friends.”

 Sunny mentioned, “I’d like to meet the Mendoza family.  I don’t know if Felix will want to introduce me to his birth parents.  Maybe just to his mother.  I suppose it would be a good idea to ask him.”

 Yes,” Esther agreed. “Both couples need to have times together to ask questions and exchange information.”

 Exactly,” said Ruth, “so find out all you can and we’ll meet here again next Saturday morning to do some more planning.

 The same Saturday afternoon during their four by four ministry time, Nathan and Felix talked to three teenage boys who had just come out of the game room in the mall.

 While they were doing that, Esther and Sunny were able to tell the Good News to three older women who had been shopping together.  Since all the boys and the women too, spoke only Spanish, it was very helpful that all four of members of the group were bilingual, and that they had their Spanish New Testaments with them so they could have the people read the verses.  

 Later, the four by four group met together and had great rejoicing over the six new believers who would be in heaven and would be attending a Spanish congregation of the Grace ‘n’ Faith Church.

 Then Esther and Sunny asked their future husbands all the questions Ruth had suggested, and got their answers.  

 

 On a Thursday evening, Ted and Julie were conversing again with Larry and Jane Kelsey who had moved from Pine City at the end of October last year to a southern city with a group of people from Grace ‘n’ Faith Church to start a church there.  Since they had been good friends, they carried on their friendship by phone.

 After finding out how they were doing, Ted shared, “During the last several weeks we’ve been explaining and having you pray with us about our plans to be foster parents at Oscar and Vera’s dude ranch.  God has been working things out so well for us all the way along, and it’s clear to us this is his will for us.”

 Julie continued, Yes, just last Saturday we went and spent part of the day with Oscar and Vera.  We had a lovely time and got all our questions answered.”

 Jane asked, “Did you get to go horseback riding?”

 Yes!” exclaimed Julie. “I really enjoyed it and now I get to look forward to doing more riding when time permits.  I know we’ll be very busy raising four girls all the same age, but the ranch will be a wonderful place to live and raise our big family.  Tell them about the new job you will have there, Ted.”

 Okay.  I’ll be the ranch’s handyman, except for the two days a week when I’ll be volunteering in the classrooms of our four foster children.  I’m looking forward to the move as soon as we get our training and license.  I enjoyed the horseback ride too.  How’s the new church doing?  We haven’t had much time to talk about that lately with all our excitement,” admitted Ted.

 Larry responded, “It’s understandable.  You have a right to be excited, and we’re delighted for you.  The new church is doing very well and all the people who moved here with us are doing well also.  It’s a lot of hard work, but the results are definitely worth the effort.  I’m glad we moved here with the group.”

 Jane mentioned, However, we do miss you and all our other friends in Pine City.  We especially miss the church and small group.  We hope to come for a visit maybe in the spring or summer.  Let us know when you’re going to move to the ranch and we’ll plan our trip so we can be there to help you move.”

 Julie exclaimed, “How nice of you!  And how wonderful it’ll be to get to see you in person then.  In the meantime, I’m glad the phones work so well.  This has been a good way to continue our friendship rather than just letting it die.  You people are extremely important to me and I appreciate the times we get to visit and pray together and keep up to date on what’s happening.”

 You’re welcome,” replied Larry.

 And Jane said, “We enjoy the phone visits also,”

 

 All during the weeks after Vera and her brother had made their announcements at the end of their church services, many other families in churches 4 and 7 had been praying and deciding whether to become foster parents to four boys or girls.  To some it seemed like a good idea, but for others, it was just too big a commitment.  A few of those decided to remain in their own homes and to try just one or two foster children instead of four.

 Others like newly married Matt and Fiona Anderson or Vern and Lora Jones with his daughter Mindy, discussed and prayed about the idea, but already had jobs or plans for their lives that couldn’t include being foster parents at least at this time.

 Some people dismissed the idea immediately instead of praying and being open to God’s leading.  One man said to his wife, “That’s crazy!  Anybody who does that is just asking for trouble!  Those abused kids will make lots of problems.”  He went on and on about it, but his wife wisely stayed silent because she knew it would do no good to argue with him.  Furthermore, with an attitude like his, he couldn’t be a good father.

  When Roy and Sherry Foster discussed the idea after being sure Hope and Joy were asleep, Roy admitted, “I know this will sound selfish, but I really like the size our family is now and I don’t want to add even one more even though I realize there are many children out there who need a good home.”  

 Sherry agreed, “Yes, everything you said is very true. Plus, we would have to take care of four more girls if we wanted to move to the ranch, because that’s Vera’s plan.  Caring for six girls is an overwhelming thought.  Besides, I don’t think it would be fair to Joy and Hope to ask them to get used to four foster sisters.”

 Roy nodded emphatically.  “I do know the twins would enjoy being able to ride horses once in a while, but that’s not a good enough reason for us to volunteer.  Let’s pray about it and listen carefully to what Jesus will tell us to do.”

 After several days of prayer and other discussions, Roy and Sherry sensed that Jesus wanted them to continue as they were.

 Others, especially couples who didn’t have any children of their own, or whose children were grown and on their own, prayed and had much communication together.  Jesus made his will clear to them, like he did with Jeff and Karen and Ted and Julie.  They followed his leading by volunteering to get the training and by preparing to become foster parents to needy boys or girls.

 One of those couples was William and Anna Beckett.  After Esther’s visit on Wednesday, Anna told William about the plans for the homes for abused boys at the Mercy Valley Farm, and they decided it would be better for them to be there rather than at the ranch, because Esther and Nathan would learn to live as a married couple better without their parents living so close to them.

 It was a tremendously hard decision for them, as Anna mentioned to her beloved husband, “We’re so well settled here in your parents’ house, which we inherited from them.  It’s a beautiful, comfortable home and holds all their memories plus all the ones we have made with our children.  It’ll be hard to let it go, but it will be worth it since we’ll be helping four abused boys.

 William said, “I definitely agree with what you said.  I even worry about how Ruth, Jason, and Esther might react if we sell our business and home so we can volunteer to become foster parents to four other children.  At least we aren’t considering adopting them.  If we give each of our three, their inheritance when we tell them about our decision, I think they’ll be more accepting.”

 “Yes,” continued Anna, “we’ve always planned to give each one of them one of the Beckett CPA offices as their inheritance.  We can just give it to them early.  And since we now know Esther’s plans with Nathan, she won’t need your other office as an inheritance.  We can just give her the sale price of that office as her inheritance.”

 “Right you are!” William agreed.  “She wouldn’t be able to be a foster mother to four girls, live at the ranch, and run a CPA office on top of it.  How would it be if we invite them all over to supper some evening and have a family meeting afterward so we can tell them about our decision?”

 Anna replied, “Brilliant!  I’m glad my husband is so smart.”  

 

 Felix and Sunny went during the same week as their last date to visit the Mercy Valley Truck Farm.  Sunny exclaimed, “This is a beautiful place!  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this!  The valley’s beautiful and the homes are all well kept.  The fields will be so green and vibrant when the crops come up in the spring.  I like it a lot here.  I hope we’ll be able to volunteer to raise our foster children here on this farm.”

 I was hoping you’d like it here,” Felix responded.

 Just then the owners came out of their house and Felix introduced them to Sunny.  She felt an immediate connection to them because they were sincere and compassionate believers.

 “What gave you the idea to turn this fabulous farm into homes for abused boys?” Sunny asked after they had talked for a while.

 The man answered, “My sister, Vera, told us their plans for a girls’ ranch and talked us into making this farm into homes for foster boys.  That way, she and I and our spouses will be able to leave a legacy and bless others with the blessings God has so graciously given us.  We’ll still raise crops for the truck farm and part of the boys’ chores will be to help with the crops.”

 His wife added, “Yes, and the income from the crops we sell will help keep the farm running.  The people who volunteer here will have jobs helping with the crops that will pay them a salary to give them the money needed for their food, needs, insurance, and rent for the homes where they’ll live.  That’s basically the way this farm has been operating all these years.  The only difference is, instead of having children of their own, they’ll all have foster children who need to learn about Jesus so they can accept him as their Savior and he can heal and restore their lives.”

 It’s a remarkable plan.  Thank you for sharing with me how it will work,” said Sunny.

 Felix mentioned, “It’ll be a great opportunity for the boys to learn about agriculture and our great creator as they’re helping.”

 Vera’s brother went on to explain about the jobs that would be available on the farm and ended by saying, “We’ll try to match people with their skills and areas of interest.”

 His wife mentioned, “One spouse or the other might decide to keep the job they have in town and drive back and forth.  It really isn't that far and only takes about 20 minutes.  But we will need at least one in each couple to work on the farm.

 Felix explained about his prayer and God’s answer.  He told them of his and Sunny’s plan to be married soon, and take the training to become foster parents.  “We’d like to volunteer to live and work here on the farm and raise four foster boys.”

 The man responded, “We’d be glad to have you here, Felix.  You’re a very good worker and could continue doing just as you are now, if it’s something you’d like to do.

 Absolutely, I like my job a lot,” Felix replied.  “I enjoy the work I do here and I really like the farm.”

 His wife asked, “What kind of work do you do, Sunny?”

 “I've been working in the produce section of the local grocery store for many years.  I enjoy seeing God’s creation and preparing the produce for display.  Would there be a need for that kind of work here?” Sunny inquired.

 She answered, “In a way it would be the opposite, especially as the crops ripen.  You could help prepare the produce for transport to the stores.  You probably have unloaded some of our boxes of produce in the store where you work.  So it would be a different kind of work.  Off season there would be other types of work for you to do.”

 Sunny observed, “It sounds like a good way to stretch my learning and abilities.  Maybe I’ve gotten into a rut at the store.”

 Next they were shown some of the houses.  A couple of them would remain furnished if the present workers decided to move and not take on the care of four foster boys.

 Felix commented, “One of those houses would be perfect for Sunny and me, since we have no furniture, but only if the present workers decide to move.  Will you keep us in mind as volunteers?”

 They both smiled and nodded, and the man said, “I think you both would be definite assets to our farm.  It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Sunny.  I have no doubts that you’ll both do well in the training, get your license and be good foster parents.  Congratulations on your engagement and plans to be married.  If one of those couples decides to move, we’ll save the furnished house for you two.”

 Felix and Sunny thanked them and took their leave.

 

 In Pine City the small groups with volunteers to be foster parents on the ranch or farm had some important verses to review at one of their meetings.  All of them decided they’d be good ones to memorize.

 The verses were Deuteronomy 6:4-7.  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  These words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

 They discussed the meaning of the verses and came up with ideas to carry out the command with their foster children when they arrived in their new homes.

 One person said, “First we need to show them that we love our God with all our hearts, souls, and might.  We could do it partly by praying out loud, studying his word daily where they can see us, and talking about why we love him.”

 Another added, “Yes, and we can memorize verses out loud and ask them to check us if they know how to read.”

 We’ll have a captive audience,” commented another, “but we need to make our teaching times interesting and fun for them.”

 Somebody else agreed, “You're right, and we’ll need to intersperse these teachings with regular conversations and be sure they all get a chance to talk and share things of interest to them.”

 One stressed, “Our main goal is to teach them about Jesus and let the Holy Spirit draw them to him for salvation.  Then we can teach them about the commands in the context of these verses and the things Jesus commanded also.

 Others said things like the following.

 Yes, and then we’ll need to teach them how to live as Jesus children in a manner to please him and be his witnesses to other children who need him.”

 The word ‘diligently’ sticks out to me as very important.  Some synonyms I can think of are: carefully, earnestly, conscientiously, and tirelessly.”

 Those are helpful words to explain how to teach, thank you.”

 Verse seven sounds like the teaching is supposed to be many times during each day.”

 Yes, repetition is a good way to teach.

 If every family in the world would teach their children the way these verses dictate, our world could be perfect if the children would cooperate.”

 I wish Israel had done these things so we could have had a good example of how it could work.”

 Maybe we can all do a good job with our new families and give others an example to follow.”

  After the discussion, they all prayed for God’s help to do what the verses said to do in the best ways possible.

 

 Julie said to Pam Green, who also taught third grade in the Faith ‘n’ Grace Church School, “The last time we ate lunch together I mentioned to you that Ted and I had decided to not adopt children so I could keep teaching here.  Since then, we have done a lot of praying and talking about Vera’s plan for her ranch.  We’ve decided that if we’d be foster parents to four kindergarten girls, I could still continue teaching here.”

 How will you ever have time to do all of that?” Pam asked.

 Julie explained to her how she and Ted had planned everything out after she had talked to Beth and gotten her support for the plan.  “I think we can make it work with God’s help.  We both have always dreamed about having a big family, but we didn’t want me to have to give up my job here at this wonderful school where I can help prepare third graders to go out and be missionaries.”

 Pam responded, “I understand, and now that you explained how you can make it work, and I think your plan sounds like a good one.  I’ll be praying for God to help you both.”

 Thank you, Pam.”  Julie smiled.  “I know we’ll need lots of his help!  This will be another big adventure for us.”

 

 A few days after William and Anna’s discussion, they invited their grown children to come enjoy supper with them and be ready to have a family meeting afterward.  The meal was delectable and the conversation delightful, but Ruth, Jason, and Esther wondered what might be discussed during the meeting.

 Everyone helped with the cleanup as usual, and the meeting took place soon after.  William began the meeting by saying, “Your mother and I have made some big decisions and they involve all of our dearly loved children.  We’ve been praying a lot about it, and we feel this is what Jesus wants us to do.”

 Anna smiled and continued, “We’ve come to the realization that Ruth and Jason are going to stay single and Esther will be the only one to get married in this family, but she and her husband and their foster children will be living on a ranch outside of town.  So we know that the family home won’t be needed for grandchildren to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We’ve also noticed that we have fewer family meals together as your interests and lives go different directions, which is understandable and expected.”

 She motioned for William to continue.  Then last week I had a dream kind of like Paul’s vision in Acts 16:9 where a man was asking him to come to Macedonia and help them.  I dreamed that a farmer was standing by his fields asking us to come help him.  The message of that dream was exceptionally plain to us.”

 He went on, “Therefore, these are the things we’d like to do.  First, we'll sell our first office and this house and volunteer to be foster parents to four boys at the Mercy Valley Truck Farm.  Second, we’ll give Ruth and Jason the offices they are presently running as their inheritances, and Esther’s inheritance will be the proceeds from the sale of our first office, which she would have started running when she reached the age of 28.  This way, each of you will receive your inheritance early, and we know you will use it wisely.”  

 Anna went on to say, Also, since Ruth already has a piano and Jason doesn’t want one, we’ll give our old upright piano to Esther so she’ll have one to play and to use for giving piano lessons.  As for the rest of our furniture, after we furnish a house at the farm, you three may choose whatever you desire and have room for in your homes.”

  William finished, Plus we’ll invest our savings and the proceeds from the family home to help fund our foster home and later on, our retirement when we think we’re too old to be foster parents any longer.  What do you think of these ideas?”

 Ruth, Jason, and Esther all sat there with shocked looks on their faces and were unable to think of a thing to say.

 Ruth recovered first, “It sounds like you have both put much thought into these decisions and you must know that it’s God’s will.  Therefore, I agree with all of it and I thank you very much for the generous inheritance.  I’ll miss coming here for family dinners and visits, but maybe we can come singly to your foster home and meet your boys so we don’t all overwhelm them.”

 Jason said, “Ditto.  Maybe I can come help out at the farm and perhaps teach or just play catch with the boys.  What ages are you planning to ask for?”

 Anna answered, “We plan to take care of two who are thirteen years old, and two who are fourteen years old.  I’m sure you can teach them many things.  You might be like an uncle or older brother to them.”

 Esther finally found her voice and stated, “I agree with Ruth and Jason, and I thank you very much for my inheritance and the beautiful upright piano.  Will you help me find a good place to invest the money from the sale of the first office?  I might need to get some out now and then to help fund our foster home, especially since we’re going to put our four first grade girls into the church school for almost three years. It is more expensive than public school, but it will teach them so much better.  I’ll be volunteering there four days a week and that’ll help with some of their tuition and help me keep track of how they’re doing.  But what will you do for a piano, Mom?”

 Anna smiled and responded, “The main farm house has a piano I can use any time I’d like to, and I can even use it to give lessons to any of the boys who might be interested.”

 Esther gave a sigh of relief and declared, “In that case, I’m extra glad I get to have the family heirloom.  I’ve always really liked your piano, which belonged to your parents.  Nathan will be so pleased also because he called it beautiful.  The piano has had such good care in the past, and we’ll take good care of it too.

 William and Anna smiled and were well pleased with each of the responses their children gave.  Now they had a great peace about what they were planning to do.

 During the week after William and Anna moved to the farm, their children came to the family home and chose small pieces of furniture and pictures that would fit in their homes and thanked their parents for all the good memories.

 

 During supper one evening Ted remarked, “Here’s another idea I had.  We could buy enough used hymnals so I could have a class for some of the girls who are interested in the lost art of note reading and harmonizing.  Maybe we could start a little choir and perform for the families on the ranch sometimes.”

 Julie responded, “It sounds like a great idea to me because it would give you a chance to pass on some of your love of music and use your musical skills.  You’ve become very good on the guitar, so it will work well to accompany some of the songs.  I enjoy hearing you sing, and our four little girls who’ll be watching and listening will learn a lot about music.  They’ll want to join the choir when they’re old enough.”

 Thank you, Julie.  I wonder if I’ll have time to continue singing bass with the musicians who prepare music for the church services and small groups,” Ted shared.

 She exclaimed, Oh Yes!  We’ll make time, because it’s an extremely important way you can serve Jesus with your wonderful voice.  Maybe on Thursday evenings while you’re gone to the church, I could invite another mother and young children over for an hour of playing, and while we watch them, we can visit.  Afterward, I’ll put the girls to bed and look forward to my dear husband’s return so we can spend some time together.”

 What a wonderful idea!  I love spending time with you, my dear Jewel,” Ted responded.  Hugs and kisses…

 

 Saturday morning Ruth and Esther enjoyed telling Sunny about the dinner and family meeting, plus what their parents had announced to them.  After getting over her surprise, she stated, “How wonderful for those boys and also for me!  I’ve always liked your parents and they’ll be living close enough on the farm that I’ll be able to visit them once in a while.”

 Esther agreed, “I hadn’t thought about that.  It’ll be great to have people you already know living near you.  I’m glad you got to meet the farm owners and already like them.  Things are working out nicely for both of us soon-to-be-brides.”  After a short pause she announced, “Ruth, we have a date set for the wedding!”

 After waiting to hear the date from one of them, Ruth finally asked, “Well, are you going to tell me when it is?”

 Sunny answered, “No, we thought it would be more fun to make you guess it.”

 Okay, I’ll play your game.  Is it on a Saturday?”  After they nodded, she continued, “Is it in the morning?”  again they nodded, so she went on, “Let’s see, you’ve known them since the first week in January and this is the second weekend in April, so that makes about three months.  Most couples like to date for about a year, so … I’ll guess that the date will be close to Valentines Day next year.”  They were both shaking their heads and laughing.  “No?  Oh my!  Well then, close to January 1, so you can have an extra day for your honeymoon, … or maybe sometime around Labor Day would make it close to eight months.”  Since they were still shaking their heads, she said, “It must be close to the Fourth of July then, so it would be about half a year!”  

 The other two were doubled over with laughter by now and Ruth joined them.  When they got control again Ruth guessed, “I do think I know.  It’ll be the third weekend in May since you both want time as married couples before you have your instant big families.  Bear with me as I carry this joke a little bit further.  This is the way it is with people today.  They want instant everything, and you two seem to be doing instant things all the way along since those two men showed up in your small group in January: instant boyfriends, instant engagements, instant wedding plans, instant showers, instant honeymoons, instant married couple life in instant houses, and instant big families.  If I weren’t convinced that Jesus is leading both of you, I’d be tempted to think you’re both crazy. But you definitely are not crazy, you’re both dedicated to doing everything Jesus tells you to do, and I’m so proud of you!”

 They were nodding solemnly this time and Esther declared, “Thank you for the compliment.  The guessing game was fun, and we thank you for being such a good sport.  I know this doesn’t give you much time, but we have decided many things already and Sunny and I will help you as much as we can.  But having said that, we need to tell you we’ll be gone next weekend so Sunny and I can meet the Mendoza family.”

 Sunny added, “Yes, Felix will be driving and we’ll use the time in the front seat to discuss many things while the love birds sit in the back seat also discussing many things.  We two couples will chaperon each other as we drive, and when we get to the family home, Esther and I will share a room, and Felix and Nathan will share another.  It only takes eight hours to drive there.  I’m looking forward to meeting the parents who could raise two very authentic gentlemen.”

 The same goes for me, because we never spent much time with them when both our families were at the dude ranch,” Esther commented.

 Ruth asked, Did you get a guest list from each of your grooms, and do you have your own guest lists prepared?”

 Sunny replied, “Yes, here are all four lists.  You’ll notice there are no long ones.  Some time ago you mentioned a big fancy wedding, but we don’t think it’ll be very big since most of our high school chums have moved away and we’ve lost contact with them.  But the wedding can be as fancy as you desire, Ruth.”

 Thank you.  I already decided it does not need to be big and fancy.  I don’t need to show off.  All I really want to do is make this wedding as close as possible to the dream wedding both of you planned for so many years!” emphasized Ruth.

 Esther ran and gave her sister a giant hug.  You are surely the most wonderful sister a girl could ever wish to have.  Thank you so much!”

 “You’re welcome.  It truly is my pleasure.  Now, back to practical matters, please do your packing for the weekend trip on Wednesday so we can meet here on Thursday evening and address invitations after I’ve made reservations to use the Chapel in the Hills you both like so much, and arrange for Pastor Don to officiate the weddings.  I’ll have the reception in the basement of that church catered by my good friend from high school whose new business is going so well.  She’ll be glad for some business before the regular June rush of weddings.

 Sunny commented,  And as our dream wedding papers say, our moms are getting their dresses resized to fit us, and then have them cleaned.  They’ll be ready in two weeks.  Both of them are so pleased and excited that we’d really want to use their ‘old’ wedding dresses.  It’s fun to do something that pleases others as much as it does us.”

 For sure!”  Then Esther shared, “I think Mom had just about given up on there being a wedding in our family.  Her dress won’t need much alteration because I’m pretty close to the size she was when she and Dad got married.”

 Later Sunny suggested, “Esther, let’s have a double wedding shower to go with our double wedding.  I’ll give you one and you give me one.  We’ll each ask the same guests in one invitation and they can bring two gifts apiece, one for each of us.  If people bring identical gifts for us, they can tell us to open them at the same time.  I heard that’s what twins do at their birthday parties.”

 Esther responded, “What a fun and good idea!  Then they won’t need to bring a gift to the wedding.  I’m so glad you’re my best friend, Sunny!”  

 “The feeling’s definitely mutual!  My family’s house is bigger, so let’s have the shower there’” Sunny added.

 “That’s another good idea.  We can do like Fiona told me they did: choose a store and go there with our grooms to make a list of things we’d like to receive as gifts.  Then we can put the list on their registry at the store so people will get ideas of what to buy.  Whenever one item is bought, it falls off the list, so there will be no duplicate gifts given that we’d have to return.  I’m sure we’ll both have a lot of things we can put on the list.”

 Right.  We should do that this afternoon after our four by four ministry time so it’ll be in place before we send invitations for the shower or the wedding,” commented Sunny.

 Esther gasped and asked, “When do we have time to have the shower?  Where’s the calendar?  Hurry, let’s find a good date.”

 

 One Sunday after church, Jeff and Karen were invited to the Suehiro home for supper.

 The food was delicious of course, just like at their restaurant.  After they all helped with the clean-up, they continued visiting in the living room.

 Tomo asked, “Jeff, can you tell us more about Oscar and Vera’s plan to turn their dude ranch into homes for abused girls?  I’ve never heard much about children who are abused.  I guess we’re always so busy with the restaurant business that we don’t know what’s going on in the rest of the country.”

 So Jeff filled them in about the various kinds of abuse and the reason Oscar and Vera had made their decision.

 Ami stated, “I can’t imagine any parent being so mean to their own children, but I guess it does happen, and I’m glad there are people who are willing to take care of them when they’re removed from that kind of a home.

 Then Karen explained, “We and several other couples I know about had decided we didn’t want to bring more children into this messed up world, so we never had any of our own.  When we heard about the idea for Mercy Valley Ranch we decided we could be parents to needy girls and have a family that way.”

 Aneko remarked, “It sounds like a good idea.”

 Yoshi added, “But I don’t think I’d like all four at once.”

 Jeff responded, “I know, and we’ve discussed the problems we might have by doing it this way.  But since we know it’s God’s will for us to do this project, we also know he will help us with everything.”

 Karen added, “We’re looking at it as an adventure and as a ministry and as an opportunity, plus a way to serve Jesus.  How’s your restaurant business going?”

 Ami responded, “It’s wonderful now that we have Aneko and Yoshi to help us there.  It was getting too busy before.  Besides, we’re happy to have them both living here at home with us again.  We missed them so much when they were living in the other city.”

 Tomo added, “Besides, now they’re believers too, and we have so many good discussions about Jesus and the Bible.”

 Yoshi said, “Plus we all enjoy working together.”

 Aneko agreed, “It’s great to be a believing family in unity.”

 Karen remarked, “Yes!  In fact it’s the only good way to go.”

 As they were getting ready to leave, Tomo invited, “When you feel like your girls are ready, please come as a family to supper at our restaurant so we can meet them.”

 Jeff responded, “Thank you for the invitation.  We’ll look forward to doing that.  And thank you for supper tonight and the wonderful time we had to visit.”

 Ami replied, “It was our pleasure.  We’ll be praying for you.”

 Karen said, “Thank you.  I’m sure we’ll need lots of God’s help.”

 

 While all the wedding planning was going on, other couples who had decided to volunteer at the ranch were also praying about, and discussing whether to keep their jobs in town, and what ages would be the best to choose.  Probably most of the people who would volunteer and move to the truck farm would leave their town jobs and work on the farm because their labor would be needed to keep the truck farm producing for all the places that had come to expect it, and to bring income to the farm so it could keep functioning.  

 One couple on the ranch chose to take all second grade girls and the have the mom volunteer five days a week at the church school so the children would have the benefit of almost two years in the church school.  The dad in this family had a good paying job that would help take care of the rest of the tuition and the rent, food, insurance and other needs.  When they found out the government stipend for each child for clothes and school supplies they figured out a budget that would cover the things they needed.

 Many of the other couples decided to choose pairs of boys or girls one age and the other pair a year or two older.  The reasoning for this was to have similar interests and be able to help each other with homework like Ian and Yolanda’s girls had mentioned.  Other couples decided on stair step ages so they’d be like a regular family.  So in the end, many age levels were covered.  But none chose any who were older than 14, because the idea was to have a long term relationship, and enough time to make a difference in their lives.  Sometimes siblings were able to be placed in the same home and they were helped by the continuity that brought.

 The ranch said it was okay to have one or two pets if they were small ones kept inside or tied up outside, and if they weren’t a nuisance to other people.

  Cory’s parents, Greg and Oralie Iverson, had gone to the truck farm to ask if they had a house that would be big enough for them and their own son, Cory, plus four other boys from ages five through seven.  They did have one house that would work, if Cory wouldn’t mind sleeping in the small room that was really meant for an office.  The parents could buy an old-fashioned kind of stand alone wardrobe to be the closet.  He could share his parents’ bathroom since the other one would be very busy with four boys.  Because it was an unfurnished house they could bring whatever would fit of the rest of their furniture and buy furnishings for the two bedrooms the other boys would share.  Cory was thrilled.

 

  William mentioned, The church service today surely went along well with all the planning we and the rest of the people are doing in preparation for instant big families as foster parents.”

 Anna agreed, You’re right.  For us it won’t be such a shock, but more like a flashback to when we had our three children.”

 William continued, “I’m glad about that for us.  The songs at church are always good, but the scriptures were especially helpful today.  Maybe the other parents will also be helped.”

 Anna prayed, Yes, Father please make that happen for all the people who need your special help at this time.”

 He added, “Please help them and us to continue to commit our work to you LORD, and you will establish our thoughts, as I personalized Proverbs 16:3.

  She continued, “Thank you, God, that you are our helper, as I personalized Psalm 54:4a and that Psalm 121:2 says, My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth.

 William personalized two other verses from the service: “I’m very thankful that God, is our God for ever and ever, and he will be our guide, as Psalm 48:14 says.  And Proverbs 16:9 says, we plan, but you, LORD, direct our steps.”

 Anna added, “Thank you that 2 Samuel 22:31-33 says, As for God, his way is perfect.  The word of the LORD is proven, he is a shield to all who trust in him.  For God only is the LORD and a rock.  God is my strength and power, and he makes my way perfect.”

 Then they sang together all but verse four of “O God Our Help In Ages Past.”  And William said, “Thank you for being our help!”

 

 While they were packing for the trip back to the Mendoza parents’ home Felix stated, “I would never have believed it, if someone had told me in September that we’d both be married before the end of May!”

 Yes,” agreed Nathan, “This whole project went much faster and in a different direction than I ever thought it would.  It’s easier for me to believe, because I’m marrying the woman of my dreams after so many years of waiting and searching.  You on the other hand have known Sunny for only about 3 months.  You work fast my friend!”

 Felix laughed, “Actually it was God who did the fast work once I realized Esther wasn’t the right woman for me.  He put Sunny in our four by four group and totally took us both by surprise!”

 Nathan remarked, “I think you’ll be a good match though.  She has a lot of good qualities.”

 I think so too,” said Felix.  “I’m already feeling love for her and I hope she’ll be able to feel love for me.  It seems a strange way to begin a marriage in this day and age, but since we both know it’s God’s will, it’ll be a good marriage.  A lot of people think they’re in love but have a rocky, hard road and end up wondering if they married the wrong person.  At least we won’t have that problem.”

 Good thinking, Felix.”  Then Nathan inquired,  “How do you feel about having a double wedding?  I let Esther know I’m fine with whatever kind of wedding she wants, as long as she is my bride and it’s in a church and by a pastor.”

 Felix declared, “I told Sunny it sounds fun and interesting.  I had never even heard of such a thing, but with Ruth planning it and our two brides working with her on it, it should be wonderful.”

 I agree, and if their lists aren't any longer than ours, it won’t be a very big one.  I wonder if they will want us to rent a tux each.  I’ve never worn a tux, and neither have you.  I guess we better ask them what they want us to do,” mentioned Nathan.

 You’re right!  Plus, someone told me once that the honeymoon is usually the groom’s responsibility to plan and pay for.  Do you have any ideas for a honeymoon?” Felix questioned.

 Nathan replied, “No, so we better get busy brainstorming.  It would be a good idea to ask them if they prefer to know where we’re going or would rather have it be a surprise.  We still have a lot to talk about.  Maybe it would be a good idea to ask them for some ideas of places they might like to go.”

  Felix commented, “I never realized there were so many details involved in getting married.  Our university friends just up and eloped.  But I do think it would be better to plans things first.”

 Yes, and I’m looking forward to taking them to meet Dad and Mom.  I like your idea of you doing the driving so you and Sunny can talk and plan in the front seat while Esther and I do the same in the back seat.  It’s nice that conversing doesn’t bother you while you’re driving.  I need quiet concentration when I drive and Esther is super about staying quiet then,” Nathan continued.

 Felix concurred.  “I’m glad for you about that, otherwise it could be a point of contention between you.  She’s a very understanding person.  I think you two will have a wonderful life together.”

 Nathan responded, “Thank you.  Did I tell you that Esther and I get to start living on the ranch right after our honeymoon?”

 Felix replied, “Yes, and I’m happy for you.  Sunny and I will need to discuss the possibilities and come up with a solution of where we’ll stay until we get our foster parent license and a place to live on the farm.”

 Yes, you will.  Another thing we’ll need to help our brides with, is all the thank you notes to be written for gifts and things people have done for us.  This whole wedding process is a joint project just like the rest of our lives will be,” Nathan observed.

 Felix responded, “You’re right.  We’ve learned a lot and have a lot more to learn.  I think I’ve grown up a lot since January.  I’m glad I don’t have the urge to tease like I did before.”

 Nathan agreed, “I’m proud of you.  I feel we’re both on the right track toward maturity.  Father in heaven, please continue to help us mature and to accomplish all the things we need to in order to have a wonderful wedding and life with our beautiful brides.”  Felix said a loud AMEN.

 

 During lunch at the ranch, Jeff was talking to Matt Anderson who was the foreman for Jeff’s crew of the Evans Construction Company.  “This ranch is in such a pretty valley and all the buildings have had excellent care.  Karen and I are really looking forward to raising four girls here.”  Then he gave Matt a summary of their visit to the ranch last Saturday.

 Matt responded, “I’m glad for you, it sure is a quick way to get a large family.  Fiona and I prayed and discussed it, but it didn’t make any sense after all the work Walt and both of our crews did in order to finish up the house I had started for us.  Besides, Fiona’s already expecting our first baby, and we had agreed to have a large family the usual way.”

 Jeff replied, “I can see how that makes very good sense for you and Fiona.  Isn’t it amazing how God has made so many unique individuals and different plans for each life and how he can make his plan known to each one who will listen to him and do it?”

 Matt agreed, “Yes it is!  We’ll be praying for you and Karen as you follow God’s leading in this new undertaking.  I know there will be many hard things for you to do, but it sounds like you’ve already had several things work out nicely, and for Karen to have a job at the ranch.”

 Yes, she’s excited about the job and the ranch.  I guess we better get back to work,” commented Jeff.

 

 In Pine City the Tuesday after their trip to see the Mendoza parents, Esther and Sunny were talking with Ruth about how it went.  “What did you think about them and Felix’s mother?” Ruth asked Sunny.

 They were all extra nice.” she responded.  “I felt an instant bonding with them because we’re all believers.”

 It does make a world of difference,” Ruth stated.

 Sunny continued, I feel like I know Felix a lot better now, after seeing where he grew up and getting to know his mother and foster parents.”

 Esther added, “Nathan’s parents are amazing people.  We asked them for any ideas about being foster parents and I took a lot of notes on what they said.  I’m sure it’ll be very helpful for us.  I hope they’ll be able to travel out here to visit us, because it would be harder for us to go there with four foster children.”

 Sunny nodded, “They did mention at one point that they’d try to visit us in our new homes.  I’ll look forward to their visits.”

 I’d like to see them again,” Ruth remarked, “and get to know them better myself.  I can’t even remember what they look like.”

 Esther stated, Nathan looks a lot like his dad, but he has his mother’s expressive eyes.  I could see many of their mannerisms have passed on to both Nathan and Felix.”

 Sunny agreed, “You’re right.  Felix doesn’t resemble either of them of course, but it was easy to see who had raised him.  Felix and I went alone to see his mom.  He has his mother’s hair color and smile and sense of humor.  It’s too bad his sister wasn’t able to be there.  I would like to have met her.  Maybe sometime she can come to the farm for a visit.”

 Esther mentioned, “Yes, perhaps she can.  The driving time there and back was well used and helpful.  Nathan and I had a chance to do a lot of planning for our honeymoon as well as for the future.”

 Sunny said, “It was a good time for Felix and me also.  He let me read the issues dissertation he wrote for you, Esther.  That was a super idea you had.  I learned so much about him by being able to read it.  I told him I agreed with all of it too.  He’s an extraordinary person and I’m beginning to like him a lot.”

 Esther exclaimed, “Terrific!  Did he ask you where you might like to go on your honeymoon?”

 “Yes, but I told him I’d rather have it be a surprise,” she replied.

 “Not me!” declared Esther.  We brainstormed a lot and chose two short ones we both like.  I’m looking forward to them.  However, I won’t tell you where, until we get back.”

 

 Nathan and Felix had fun talking about their trip to take Esther and Sunny to visit the Mendoza parents.  Nathan shared, “I think Dad and Mom were truly pleased with both of our women.  I know they had a lot of misgivings when we told them about our plans before we left last fall, but they could see and agree that it has all worked out surprisingly well.”

 Felix concurred but added, “I think they were very amazed that I found a ‘replacement’ so easily and quickly.  I’m beginning to like to tell that story and see the surprise on people’s faces.”

 I imagine it is fun for you since it worked out so well with her and her parents,” Nathan commented.

 Right, it wouldn’t have been any fun if she or they had rejected me.  I noticed Esther taking a lot of notes after asking for advice about being foster parents.  In fact she takes lots of notes at church and in small group also,” Felix observed.

 “Yes, she truly is a serious learner and wants to get things done correctly, so I’m pretty sure she studies and reviews them later,” Nathan agreed.

 Felix continued, It was helpful to me to be able to converse with Sunny while I was driving.  She asked a lot of good questions and was very pleased to get to read my dissertation about all those issues Esther gave us.  I’m glad she agreed with all of them, because unity is exceptionally important.”

 Nathan agreed, “Yes it is, and we’re both very privileged to be marrying intelligent, agreeable, beautiful, Christian women.”

 “Yes!” declared Felix.  What a wonderful way to go!”

 

 The next Saturday after their four by four ministry time, it was decided that this should be the last four by four ministry time for the two engaged couples so they could plan and be ready for their weddings.  After the weddings they would each become a two by two ministry team.

 They thanked each other for being a part of the ministry group and decided Nathan and Felix should report their decision to Jeff and Karen before the next small group meeting.  They would also inform them about the upcoming double wedding.

 On the way to their homes, they left Sunny at her apartment, but when they reached Esther’s apartment, Felix asked Nathan and Esther if the three of them could go up and talk to Ruth.

 When they got inside Felix asked, “Do any of you know of a place Sunny might like to go for a honeymoon.  She told me she wanted it to be a surprise.”

 Ruth looked at Esther and they both smiled.  Esther declared, “She told us something a couple months ago that would be just right, but it will take some planning and working together to make it work correctly.”  Then she explained what it was and they all made plans to make this a honeymoon that Sunny would enjoy and also remember for a long time in the future.

 

 Connie Clay was visiting her former employee, Fiona Anderson who was expecting her first baby in a few weeks.

 I’m glad you came to my house today, because I’m really tired today,” Fiona shared.  “I guess that goes along with my condition.  I had no idea what to anticipate, but I thought I’d have enough energy to get a lot of things done here at home before this little one arrives.”

 I think it would be hard to predict.  It was different with each of my two.  With Ben I had lots of energy all the way through, but with Amelia, I was tired most of the time.  Our bodies know what they need, so if it’s telling you that you’re tired, then you better rest and not worry if you don’t get done with all the things you planned to do,” advised Connie.

 Thank you, Connie,” Fiona responded.  “I was feeling guilty for resting so much every day, even though Matt told me not to worry about it.  I’ll tell him what you said and take the advice of both of you!  How’s everything going for you at the shop and at home?”

 Connie told her all about it and then left early after telling Fiona to go take a nap.

 

 The last Saturday in April, when the Becketts, Sunny, and Maria arrived at the dude ranch for their weekend of fun, Esther commented, “Sunny, it’s a good thing the wedding isn’t until the third weekend in May or we wouldn’t have time to come here.”

 “For sure, and I, for one need this time to relax, plus we can help Ruth this weekend with the rest of the planning for our wedding,” agreed Sunny as they were standing on the porch.  

 Esther remarked, Agreed, this will be a great way to relax. I enjoy watching the horses in the pasture.  I remember most of these same horses from our other visits to the dude ranch and it’s nice to see that they’re still here and look just as healthy as they did then.  I like all the different colors.  

 Maria inquired, “Do you have a favorite color for a horse?”

 “Well,” Esther responded,I think I might have several different preferred colors, depending on the day and maybe which horse I’m riding.  Right now I especially like those two buckskin colored horses.  One is tan and the other is a medium bronze.  Both of them have black legs, manes, and tails.  I think it’s an impressive combination.  Their names are Bronze and Topaz and they’re quarter horses.

 Maria agreed, “I think so too.  The only color I’m familiar with is palomino.  Those two over there are almost like twins with their golden colored bodies with white manes and tails.  The only difference I can see in them is the white markings on their faces.”

 Esther explained, “Yes, they’re Tennessee Walking Horses. one has a blaze, which is a white mark that goes from its forehead to its nose.  The other has a star, which is a white spot on its forehead.  So that’s how they got their names, Blaze and Star.

 What a good idea,” remarked Sunny. … “Except, you have to be able to see their faces before you know which is which.  I guess it’s like the twin girls in our church, Hope and Joy.  One of them has freckles on one cheek, and the other doesn’t, so you have to be able to see their faces to tell who is who.”

 Esther responded, “Yes, and you have to remember which one goes with the freckles, and I don’t, because I don’t see them very often.  At least with these two horses, their markings go with their names so it’s easier for me.”

 I agree.”  Then Maria asked, What’s the name of the color for the gray horse with darker gray areas all over him?”

 It’s dapple-gray.  He has a black mane and tail and his legs are also black.  As I remember they call him Dappled.  He’s a quarter horse and was used by people trying to rope cattle from his back, before he came to this ranch which has no cattle.

 Sunny stated, “I’m glad.  They smell worse and aren’t nearly as interesting or as pretty as horses.”  They laughed with her.

 Esther went on to explain, “There are two big horses with patches or spots of white and another color.  They’re called pintos.  In this case one has black and the other has brown.  Notice that the mane and tail continue the color of the patches or spots next to them.  These two horses are also Tennessee Walking Horses and their names are Spots and Patches.”

 Maria exclaimed, “Oh, I can see why!  They’re both beautiful.  I like the color of the patchy brown one better.  I assume that’s the one called Patches.”

 “Right.  Then there are two solid black horses near those two.  They’re also Tennessee Walking Horses.  One is even taller than the pintos.  I’ve never ridden any of those three because they’re so big.  I tend to like the smaller horses better,” Esther explained.

  Maria asked, “How old were you when you first started riding?”

 Esther answered, “I think I was ten the first time we came to this dude ranch and Vera gave me my first riding lesson.  It was my dream come true and I’ve loved horses ever since. … Now look at the matching bay horses headed this direction.  Those two are Morgans and they also seem pretty big to me.  I’ve never ridden them either, but they’re especially beautiful with their brown coats, and black manes, tails and legs.  The only way to tell them apart is by facial markings again.  As they get closer look at them carefully.”

 Maria responded, “I see!  Let me guess.  The one with the diamond on its forehead is called Diamond, and the one with the comet shape is named Comet.  They are magnificent.”

 “Yes they are!  And you got their names correct.  This is fun.  Let’s see, so far we’ve talked about eleven horses.  Look over to the right and you’ll see a milk chocolate colored horse with a flaxen or blond colored mane and tail.  That horse is Vera’s favorite, and she calls it Coco.  Standing by Coco is a dark chocolate one with a flaxen mane and tail.  Its name is Dark Coco.  They’re both Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses.

 Sunny exclaimed, Those two are my favorite colors so far!”

 Esther replied, “They’re in my preferred colors also.  There’s a group of smaller horses over there on the left.  All of them are Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses, and these vary in size from 11 to 14 hands, just the right size for children and small ladies.”

 I see two light brown horses, and their manes and tails are the same color as their bodies. Is there a way to tell them apart?” Maria asked.

 “Yes, look at their lower legs,” answered Esther.

 “Oh, I can see that one has short white markings above the front feet, and the other has longer ones on its back feet.  I’ll take a guess at their names.  The first one is Socks, and the other one is Boots.  If they were kittens that’s what I’d name them.”

 Good thinking, Maria.  You got them right.  Now look at the two next to them.  They’re both different shades of brown with manes and tails of the same color.  The dark one is Coffee and the light coppery colored one is called Tea.”

 You’re right, this is fun.  Next I see a small solid black horse.  So there are three black horses on the ranch, ranging in size from very large to medium and small.  So I’ll speculate their names.  King, Queen, and Princess,” Maria guessed.

 “You catch on quickly.  Vera and Oscar wanted to keep the names simple so the guests could remember them by just looking at the horses.  I think it was a brilliant idea!” stated Esther.

 Yes it was.” Maria concurred.  There are just two others left, tell me about them.”

 “Okay.  These two make up the twenty horses in the herd.  One is all brown like a seal, and the other one is all reddish brown like rust.  So their names are Brownie and Rusty.  I think they’re the smallest horses on the ranch and the little kids really love them.  I think I started out on Rusty, and I did love him.  Let’s go get ready for a ride and we can look at all of them up close while we choose the ones we want to ride,” suggested Esther.

 Sunny declared, “I was hoping you’d say that.”

 Maria admitted, “I could hope you’re only joking, but I know you’re serious.  I don’t know how to ride a horse.  I’ve never even been close to one, and I think I’m scared of them.”

 “Don’t worry,” Esther replied.These horses are all unusually gentle and want to please whoever is riding them.  We’ll take Ruth with us and get Vera to give you your first lesson.  She’ll remove your fears in no time and teach you all you need to know for your first ride.”  

 Esther grabbed Maria by the hand and didn’t give her a chance to argue or decline.  Soon the ladies had changed into jeans and were on their way to see Vera, who was always eager to teach a newcomer how to ride.”

 After the ride Maria stated, “It was really fun to learn to ride a horse after getting it ready first and becoming acquainted with it.  Since I got to ride Boots, it wasn’t scary at all, since he’s only 12 hands high.  Even though I’m tall he seemed just the right size for my first ride.  Maybe next time I’ll try a larger horse.”

 After lunch they got ready to take two small flat-bottomed boats and go rowing on Wild Mint Lake.  Ruth explained, “The name for the lake comes from all the wild mint that likes to grow near water.  It might take awhile for Maria to get in rhythm so we can row and get anywhere, but it’ll be fun once we do.”

 Sunny said with a smile, “As I remember, the lake isn’t much over knee deep, so even if we tip over, we’ll just get cold.”

 Maria responded with a laugh, “That’s encouraging!  Anyway, I’m going to have lots of wonderful memories of this ranch and our weekend here.  I’m glad Ruth already told me that these boats don’t tip over very easily, so I won’t have to worry about getting wet and cold on this chilly afternoon.”  

 We did it once, though, didn’t we Esther, just to prove it could be done.  But then we had to clean everything in the boat and be sure it was dry.  That took us two extra hours,” admitted Sunny.

 Esther responded, “It was fun, until the cleanup.  We do have many good memories of this ranch.  I feel so privileged that I’ll get to live here.  It’s a perfect place to raise children.  There are lots of ways to do reality discipline when rules aren’t followed.  Most kids won’t make the same mistake twice.”

 Ruth called out, “Come over here, Maria.  We’ll take this boat and they can have that one.  I’m sure you’ll learn how to row it quickly.”  

 She did and they had a nice time.  “This is fun, Ruth.  I’m getting some good exercise today.  I’m glad I got to come here.  The air’s so clean and fresh and every place I look is beautiful.”

 Ruth said, “I agree.  This whole valley is one of the most scenic and peaceful places I’ve ever visited.”

 Later in the afternoon, Maria went to visit with Vera while the other four ladies worked on wedding plans.  Anna was glad to be included and gave them some good ideas.

 Sunday morning they had a nice time singing hymns with the SD card in a little boom box, and then studying the Bible together.  Afterward even though the morning was still cool, they all hiked up to Lavender Falls, which was just as beautiful as Esther had said it was.  After lunch, they went on a long horseback ride to see the rest of the ranch.

 Maria rode a larger horse this time.  She understood why it was one of Esther's favorite activities.  But she told Ruth, “I was sore and stiff for a couple days afterward.  I think horseback riding is an activity that needs to be done on a regular basis.”  

 Ruth stated,I agree, but I feel like it’s worth it anyway.

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

John 2:1b,2,  There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  

Jesus and his disciples were also called to the marriage.

 

 Not too long after Felix and Sunny had visited the farm, Felix’s employer told him, “One couple is moving out of a furnished house next week, so it’ll be available for you and Sunny to move into right after your honeymoon.”

 Felix responded, “This is wonderful!  We were trying to decide if my apartment or hers would be the better one to move into after our honeymoon.  Now we won’t have to choose.”

 He responded, “Great!  I’m glad this has worked out so well for you both.  So after next week, you and she and any other helpers you find, can come to clean, paint, rearrange furniture, and start moving your things into the house so it’ll be all set up before your wedding.  My wife and I are looking forward to coming to your wedding.”

 “Thank you.  This is an exciting time for us,” said Felix.

 

 In Pine City when Felix told Nathan about the house Nathan exclaimed, “I’m truly glad that you and Sunny will be able to get your