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A Home for the Heart
By Michael Phillips
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 1994 Michael Phillips
All rights reserved.
I just finished the letter you gave me through Sister Janette! What a surprise!
The train is still in Pennsylvania somewhere—I haven't even traveled through one state yet, and already I am writing to you.
As I read your words, you should have seen it—the people in the coach around me looked and stared. I was crying so!
The conductor came up and asked me if I needed help. He was so kind. I told him I was just so happy I couldn't keep from crying!
And I was!
Christopher, you have made me so very, very happy—happier than ever I think a girl has been. Happier than it seems I deserve.
I know I am babbling on. I feel like such a child! I am crying again just to think of you—I can hardly write the words.
Oh, Christopher, Christopher— just to feel your name on my tongue, and to write it with my pen, feels so wonderful! Christopher, Christopher—I cannot stop! Forgive your Corrie for being a fool just this once!
Oh, Christopher, do you truly mean what you said?!
How can I ask such a question? Man of honor and uprightness and truth that I know you for, how can I doubt a word that might fall from your lips? But I am compelled to ask it. I know you mean it, but I cannot believe it!
Will I really see you in California ... in Miracle Springs? And will your mission there truly be what you say—to ask my father—?
I cannot bring myself even to say it!
I will use your words: husband ... consent to call you my husband!
Oh, Christopher, must you even ask?
You have made me so happy! That a man such as you would want to live his life with me—such a thing is beyond all the wildest dreams of my fanciful feminine imagination!
I dare not think about the prospect but to make myself crazy for not being able to share with you the wonderful joy I feel at this moment!
Consent? Oh, Christopher, Christopher—don't you know?
I love you too!
Yes, I will say it for all the world to see and to hear—I love you ... I love Christopher Braxton!
Do you hear me, world?
Do you hear me, the rest of this train!
I love Christopher Braxton!
And I, too, am yours forever!
The brief pages I wrote immediately after finishing your letter are already an embarrassment to me. I could not stop the gushing of what I felt inside!
It is now an hour later. The happiness has not gone away, only settled into deeper places in my heart so that now I can write you a little more calmly. I would throw away what I wrote an hour ago if it were not for the fact that—if we are to share life together—I want to withhold nothing of myself from you. I want you to know every tiniest and hidden part of my being—the good and the bad, the calm and thoughtful, as well as the lighthearted and emotional. So I am sending it along with this letter, as a token of just what I said—I am yours forever ... all of me. Even the embarrassing parts that I might have tried to hide from other people's eyes before.
I want to be all that God made me to be—as a writer, as a woman, as a wife, as a daughter of God, maybe even as a mother someday, or even a grandmother. If you are to be my husband—there again is that wonderful word, that word I can hardly believe!—then I want you to help me become all that God made me to be. How can you do that if I withhold little parts of myself from the gaze of your wise eyes?
So I will not withhold, even that letter. Here it is. Though I am embarrassed—it is me.
The train is clacking along steadily, and I am calmer now. My fit of crying is over, and the people who were wondering about me earlier have gone back to their newspapers and conversations. I read your letter again, every word from start to finish, and that made me start crying all over again, though I tried to keep it more to myself.
The conductor was just by and told me that we will be in Pittsburgh soon....
After reading your letter—twice now, and I shall probably read it two dozen times before reaching home!—I do not see how I will be able to stand not seeing you for as long as it takes for you to get to California.
I know what you would tell me. You would say, "Corrie, the best things cannot be hastened. Nor does God rush when he purposes to build something of lasting value."
Is that what you would say?
Oh, Christopher, how I wish I could hear your voice saying it! The words would be so much more eloquent than when they come out of my imagination. But when I put even my words into the memory of your voice, it is almost like hearing you talk to me! In any case, I shall have to satisfy myself with it for now.
"Corrie," I imagine you saying to me, "the days and weeks we are apart will only deepen our love. In God's time, you will see my face again, and I yours."
I know it is true. Even as I write the words, my heart tells me they are true. For so long, all my life, I have imagined that I would never marry. It was so wise of you to know that there were things I had to think and pray about and resolve before I would be able to think clearly about marriage.
I admit that I didn't understand your silence. I was so afraid to let myself think about you because it seemed that my thoughts were only girlish fancies. Now I see why you were constrained to silence.
You did what you did ... for me! As difficult as it was at the time, now my heart is full of more than just love for you. I feel such thankfulness too, knowing that you loved me and yet were willing to say good-bye to me and never see me again ... if that was what God wanted for me. I knew you were a giving man, but that you would do that for me makes me love you all the more.
I know some people could not understand my saying that I know you loved me enough not to have me for your wife, but I understand. And I think I hear your voice saying again to me that you can't really love something in the way God means love to be unless you are willing to give that thing up—otherwise what you call love is really selfish.
Would you say that, Christopher—that love is always giving, always sacrificing, and that you cannot truly love what you only want to possess? Anyway, even if you wouldn't say just that, I do know that you love me all the more because you didn't want me only for your own, but you wanted God's best for me.
Thank you, thank you! But now I want to be yours too!
The train is pulling into Pittsburgh. I am going to stop for now and put this letter in an envelope so that I can ask the conductor to have it mailed from here. I will keep writing more, but I can't bear the thought of not being as close to you as I can, and that means sending this to you right away.
I wish I could send myself in this envelope too!
The time is passing so slowly and quickly all at once. As I gaze out the window at the passing countryside of Ohio and now Indiana, it seems we are going ever so slowly and that I will never reach California.
At the same time, my thoughts are so occupied with everything I want to say to you, and with writing in my journal, and my daydreams, that suddenly I find another half day has passed and I have lost track of time altogether.
My thoughts dwell more and more upon Miracle Springs and all my family. I can hardly believe it has been two whole years since I have seen them! They will all be so changed. And what about me—have I changed too? They will probably say so, but I do not see it, though I think they must be right. So much has happened in the two years I have been gone—how can it not show?
Of course they know about you. I have written them letters telling all that you and Mrs. Timms did for me. But they do not really know about you and me. How could they? I would not have known what to tell them before now.
What should I tell them?
Perhaps I should say nothing and wait until you and I can tell them together. I think I shall wait to hear from you first. I imagine that you are writing to me even now, though I will have to wait until I get home to find out.
It seems strange that I must travel away from you in order to hear from you again!
Thoughts about Home
I rode the train all the way west from Pennsylvania to Omaha, Nebraska.
Now that a certain man named Christopher was involved in my life, suddenly it became very, very difficult to write in my journal as I had been doing for so many years. All I wanted to do was write to Christopher! But gradually I began picking up my journal again. There was so much I needed to write about what had happened to me when I visited my birthplace in Bridgeville. And yet I could only write a page or two before my thoughts would turn to Christopher again, and I'd take out another sheet of paper and start another letter. It seemed that I mailed off a letter to him at nearly every stop we made!
Much of my time, too, I spent riding quietly, thinking thoughts that I wasn't ready to put on paper yet. When I was in New York visiting our old home, I had gone back and relived some of my childhood memories. Now on the train and then the stagecoach ride west, I was reliving so much of what happened when the five of us kids first went to California with Ma.
Of course, I had thought about that trip many times before, but the memories seemed different now. I suppose I had changed more than I realized. I was twenty-eight, and for the first time in my life I felt like an adult. I'd been on my own for two years, and that can't help but grow a person up in a lot of ways. The time in Bridgeville had put a lot of my past and my childhood into a grown-up perspective too. But probably most of all, it was knowing Christopher—and now talking with him about getting married—that made me realize how much my life had changed and was going to change!
It was with a quiet, inward, peaceful sense of getting ready to start my adult life that I rode home, thinking about all that had happened thirteen years earlier in 1852. The realization stole over me that then I'd still been a child, but now I was going to California, not so much to return to my father's home, but rather to begin the second half of my own life, establishing my own home.
Then, especially with Ma dead, we'd been looking for some place to call our own, to think of as home. Now Miracle Springs was home, there was family there, a sense of belonging. But there was also a new feeling within me that "home" has to be established anew for every generation.
And now the time was coming when it would be my turn to establish a home—with Christopher, I hoped. I could not know when or where that would be—maybe California, maybe Richmond, Virginia, or maybe someplace in between. But wherever it turned out to be, and however the circumstances came about, it would be my home, for my family, with my husband and—who could tell?—maybe even someday with children of our own.
I don't know how to describe the feelings all these thoughts prompted within me. I suppose it was a good feeling, in a quiet sort of way, though I looked back on childhood times with a kind of nostalgia too. It was not a sadness exactly, but a slightly melancholy awareness that a former time in life is receding into the past and giving way to a new era. And with that awareness is also an excitement that so much life lay ahead of me, filled with opportunities and new challenges to face.
These feelings were prompted by more than my age, I think, though that was surely part of it. Returning home after being away a long time also can't help but make a person reflective. You think about how things were when you left, and about what kind of person you were yourself, and about all the family and friends you have there. Then you find yourself thinking about how they have changed, but even more about what changes have taken place inside your own self. Coming home is a time for taking stock of your life, looking at how you have matured and grown.
I had found that kind of introspection happening whenever I was gone from Miracle Springs, even for a short time, like the time I'd traveled to Mariposa and the several trips I'd taken to San Francisco and Sacramento and the long trek Pa and I had made out to Nevada looking for Zack. But this time I'd been gone two years, and I'd matured in so many ways, so I couldn't help thinking about all this much more, especially the closer to California I got.
But there was another factor, too, besides my age and my returning home after a long absence. That factor was Christopher.
This is something I would never have known about or been able to anticipate ahead of time. But now that I was riding home, I came to realize what a maturing and growing thing it is just to know that another human being loves you—really loves you—and wants to spend his life with you.
What an incredible thought! That a man like Christopher would want to spend his life with me! Every time I thought of it, I had to remind myself all over again that it wasn't a dream. It made me feel giddy like a schoolgirl, and yet it also brought a quiet inward calm that I can only describe as a feeling of growing up and being made ready for the next season of my life.
All these things made me feel so changed inside.
Then I wondered—would anybody else be able to see the changes? Would I look any different to my family's eyes? Would I act different? Does being in love—I still couldn't believe I was writing those words about me!—change how you seem to people?
That was a question I never did get altogether resolved, even after I arrived back in California. I don't suppose you ever know exactly what other people think of you, and worrying about it too much will drive you crazy and make you more introspective and self-centered than is healthy. All I knew was that I felt different inside. Only two years had passed, but inside I felt ten years older.
This was the third time I'd crossed this huge land. And I felt as different now from when I'd started east two years ago as I had felt then from all the years that had passed after my first journey west in 1852, when I was just fifteen. Yet different as I felt, I was still hungry to be home. Knowing I was getting closer to California every day made the hard seats on the train easier to tolerate.
All along the way, people were talking about the war. Men got on and got off that I could tell had been part of it, some still wearing their uniforms, many with slings and bandages or limping with canes. None of them wore happy expressions. I don't think that war made anyone feel happy.
I overheard people talking about the war, about President Lincoln and General Grant and General Lee, and about so many things having to do with the war. I even heard Clara Barton's name mentioned.
I didn't talk to many of my fellow passengers, though, nor let on that I knew any of the people they were talking about or had had anything to do with the war effort. Not that I wanted to keep it from them, but my mood was quiet and thoughtful, and I just didn't feel like talking about it all.
Excerpted from A Home for the Heart by Michael Phillips. Copyright © 1994 Michael Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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