Growing up in a small Midwestern town in the 60s, Matt wants nothing more than to run cross-country, hang out with his friends, and act cool. When Matt's father dies unexpectedly in a tragic car accident, his world is turned upside-down. Bitter over the loss of his father, Matt wants everyone to leave him alone, including God. When Wade, a stuttering, handicapped young man, moves in next door and insists on making Matt his best friend, Matt wants nothing to do with him. Teased by some of his friends at school, Matt struggles with choosing to be accepted rather than doing what's right. Only when Matt is able to see the world through Wade's eyes will he truly understand the meaning of grace and forgiveness.
|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
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IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS
Chapter OneThe race set before us began at the hedge corner post, ran the entire length of the dirt road, and concluded at the drainage tube at the south end. Ditches and fences lined the road, and an intermittent tree line followed the fences, with pastures and gently rolling fields beyond the trees. Wheat grew in some of the fields, and in the summer we would sometimes watch combines cut huge swaths in the grain, then throw chaff and dust into the air. Grain trucks lumbering along the dirt road stirred up dust too, and this dust hovered above the road before slowly drifting through the trees and settling over the fields. Traffic rarely used the road, and only then when someone desired a shortcut between the two gravel county roads located at either end.
"On your mark!"
But he did not die on a dirt road.
He had been killed on the two-lane blacktop highway just east of Bethel. The race set before him had abruptly ended on a muggy July night after he had finished the late shift at the plant. He had been driving home at one o'clock in the morning when a drunk driver hit him head-on, killing them both instantly.
He had been a soldier of the Fourth Marine Division in the war and had been wounded on Iwo Jima. As a direct result of that horribleexperience, he had received Jesus Christ as his Savior and had served his Lord ever since. He had been the chairman of the deacon board at Bethel Baptist Church, and everyone who knew him affectionately called him Tommy.
I called him Dad.
"Get set!" Squareface bellowed the commands in his usual raucous manner.
We would often sprint down the dirt road because the footing was surer than loose gravel on county roads and the gentle grades were of little consequence. We would try to race in the mornings to avoid the heat, but sometimes we raced in the afternoons, for we were young then and strong.
The hot August sun punished everything that lived and breathed, and it even bleached the dirt road. Thinking too hard caused perspiration in the sweltering heat. We wiped sweat from our brows.
The race began.
Squareface pedaled his bicycle past us so he would arrive at the finish line first and could officially declare the winner. His effort was quite unnecessary. There was no question who would win this race.
Stanley Colby always outran me. He was six months older and a half inch taller. We had always been best friends, a result of sitting next to each other in school during the early years. Colby invariably sat in front of Collins in a school district bent on seating children in alphabetical order.
We ran down the gentle slope for nearly a quarter mile to the culvert that fed the pond where the willow trees grew. Squareface rode ahead of us, and we pounded after him like dogs chasing a mechanical rabbit.
Grasses and weeds grew in the ditches, and there were some sunflowers, too, lost and forgotten. Cicadas, defying the heat, sang their monotonous, droning song. Colby took the lead and ran in the left wheel path while I took the right. He set the pace. It was too fast.
Colby breathed easily. I puffed in agony.
By the time we reached the willow trees, sweat poured off us, stinging our eyes and dripping to the ground, only to be devoured by the parched dust of the road.
Life had forever changed on that horrible July night. The highway patrol came to the house, and Mom and I ended up at the funeral home to identify the body. Dad had survived a world war, an awful campaign on that horrendous island, and even a Japanese bullet, just to be killed by one of his own countrymen eighteen years later. And a drunk countryman at that. Dad was only thirty-nine.
On we ran.
I knew I could not catch Colby, for I had never beaten him in my life.
A dead cat, partially decomposed and swarming with maggots, lay in the grassy center strip beyond the shade of the willow trees. Flies buzzed around the cat, and there was an odor, deep and rank and intensified by the heat. We each covered our nose and mouth the best we could with our hands as we ran by. We ran and tried to hold our breath, though we were panting by now.
Death comes to all things. Even dreams.
I gasped and tried to regain my breath.
Colby increased his lead slightly as we ran up the gentle incline toward the woven fence line. The fence followed a truck path that separated fields, and this marked the halfway point. The sun beat upon us, and we felt no breeze except what we stirred by running.
Dad had loved God. He said as much. Everybody knew it. His actions proved his words. Dad would attend church every time the doors opened for any reason. He served God faithfully. For his reward, he died in a horrible crash with a stupid drunk while God idly stood by and watched.
I would not make that foolish mistake.
McLean's section, located on the east side of the dirt road, contained the large pond, and he often let us fish there. Sparse trees encompassed the pond, and there were cattails, too, growing out of the murk along the west edge. South of the pond stood his cornfield, tall ripening stalks about ready for harvest. The dirt road bordered the entire length of McLean's section, a distance we arbitrarily agreed to be one mile.
Other people owned the land on the west side of the road. One field of wheat had been cut earlier in the summer, and the woven fence line divided a field of beans from Zimmerman's pasture. Holsteins lazily grazed in the pasture, and several of them were lying down in the meager shade, paying us no mind. The dirt road became mostly level here and continued between mulberry trees for nearly half a mile until ending at the gravel road.
God betrayed us on that terrible July night. We somehow believed He took care of those who loved Him, but this obviously was not true. It had been a violent shock to realize how unfair God could be. A very violent shock.
Mom took it hard.
She wailed that night and fainted once, then cried all through the funeral. Now after five weeks she still cried in the night, pitiful wailing that painfully stabbed the heart. Though my bedroom was located at the other end of the house in what was once the garage, I could hear her soul-wrenching sobs. Her bedroom door would be closed, and I would close mine, too. That stopped the sound, but it was still no good, for I knew she was crying.
Then there was Debbie, my kid sister. We were real close. Deb had tried so hard not to cry, especially at the funeral, but she did and she cried a lot afterward too. She would bite her lower lip and try so hard to be brave, then melt in a flood of tears.
"Come on, Matt!" Colby called.
I'm coming. Though I tried, my legs could not move any faster. They complained instead, along with the rest of my body.
Squareface reached the county road and was waiting while we approached. I watched Colby pound onward, his lead increasing. In this final stretch, the mulberry trees afforded us some shade, and the shade provided us some relief.
I did not cry at the funeral.
I vowed to never cry again. Though I did love Mom and Deb, I would never love anybody else. If you loved, you got hurt because God would take your loved one away from you. Nothing was worth such pain. Nothing.
Colby reached the gravel road and finished first, maybe twelve seconds ahead of me.
I crossed the drainage tube that ran under the dirt road and clicked my stopwatch. I bent over and gulped for air.
"How fast?" Colby asked.
I stood straight, stared at the watch, and fought for breath. "Five fifty-eight."
"Not bad for this heat," he said.
"I've done better."
"Coach Garrett thinks we'll break five minutes this year."
"Coach Garrett thinks you'll break five minutes," I said.
"He didn't say me. He said he expected one of us." Colby smiled. He was taller than average, well proportioned, strong, and devoid of any physical flaw. He had brown eyes, short brown hair, and an engaging smile that would win anyone over to his side.
I had often invited him to church, and he had even come two or three times. He finally said church was not for him. I never pressed the issue.
Colby had always been a faster runner, but I had always received better grades. I assumed I was smarter. This assumption had been incorrect. Colby was much smarter. He knew enough to leave God alone. This was sound thinking. If a fifteen-year-old could be called a complete man, Colby deserved the title.
"Haven't seen you at cross-country practice," he said. "Didn't you get your notice?"
"Aren't you going out this year?" he asked.
"You're not going out?" Squareface exploded from behind us.
We both turned and looked at him, having momentarily forgotten he was there. His name was Ronnie Kindle, but with his square jaw and flattop haircut, the nickname fit. He followed Colby around like a puppy dog.
"We're not talking to you," Colby said.
Squareface instantly became stiff at the rebuke.
Colby then turned and winked at me. "Don't pay him no mind. If you don't want to run cross-country, you don't have to run cross-country. And you don't have to worry none what nobody says."
"But everybody expects you to run," Squareface said. "Both of you are so fast. The fastest in our class."
I shrugged. "Not going out for cross-country."
"Why don't you just ride on home," Colby said to Squareface. "Me and Matt will walk on back. Alone."
Squareface silently opened and closed his mouth while giving me an ugly look.
Yeah, just go.
He stomped the left pedal of his bike, briefly spun the rear wheel, flinging dirt, and sped away.
We watched him ride off beyond the lingering dust of his tantrum. Colby and I began our walk back.
"Squareface sure left in a huff," I said.
"Oh, he's okay."
"If looks could kill ..."
"Squareface is okay. Besides, he knows how to have fun. That's what I like about him."
"Matt, that's the problem with you. You're too serious. You need to loosen up. Have some fun. That's what you need."
"Fun? What I need is water." We were hot, and our shirts and shorts were completely soaked; we desperately wished for even a hint of breeze.
"Matt, my boy," he said, "I hope you realize Coach Garrett'll be ticked. He's got high hopes for you on the junior varsity team."
"I guess he won't be pleased. But you understand."
"Yeah, I guess." Colby shrugged.
"I knew you would. Friends understand such things."
I would have given anything to be him or at least be like him. That was now my goal-to be like Colby. Colby was wise because he had nothing to do with God. I would be wise too and have nothing to do with God.
I became a Christian when I was eight. Then just four months ago, back in April, I had gone forward during a Sunday evening service at Bethel Baptist Church and told the congregation that I firmly believed God had called me to preach. Dad and Mom had been very proud.
That decision had been a terrible, terrible mistake. I now regretted everything.
"But you're making a big mistake by not running," he said.
"Think of the glory."
"You know. Everybody will notice you. Even girls. Know what I mean?"
"I suppose." I really didn't.
"You should reconsider."
We jogged past the dead cat to escape the horrid stench. Once clear, we stopped and looked at the stubble that was once a beautiful field of wheat. Several defiant stalks remained at each corner of the field, ignored by the combines, but now their proud heads drooped, having lost their overripe grain to the ground.
Back in July there had been a panic to harvest the golden grain because a storm was brewing. It was late and dark, and you could see the faraway lights in the field as well as the angry clouds when the lightning flashed in the black sky. There was the muffled droning of machinery spiked with the crack and rumble of thunder; then suddenly it became real cool, and there was the clean smell of approaching rain. The wind became strong, and the rain began to fall hard, and there was hail that bounced off houses and cars and drives. The men left the combines in the fields and drove away in the grain trucks, and later we saw deep ruts left behind by the trucks that disfigured the road.
"That was a lifetime ago."
"What did you say?" Colby asked.
"Matt? You okay?"
I looked across the stubble at the neglected stalks. "Yeah, I'm okay."
"Come on," he said. "Let's go to your house."
"We need some water."
"What we really need's a change of weather. This heat's awful. We need a change."
We started again toward my house.
No, I would not preach. I would have nothing to do with God. Never. I made a deal with Him. An agreement. I would leave Him alone, and He would leave me alone.
We would stay out of each other's way. I would live without His help, thank you.
I fully intended to keep my half of the bargain.
Colby got his wish. The next day the weather did change. On the Friday before the beginning of our tenth-grade year at Bethel High School, a cold front came down from the north, causing cloudy skies and cooler temperatures. The day brought a touch of fall to the air, and everybody said we might have an early one. Later I even noticed that old Wilmer McLean was scrambling to prepare an east field so he could drill winter wheat while he still had the chance.
Not only did the weather change, but other things changed as well. On that cool, unusual Friday, they moved in next door, and he intruded into my life.
Excerpted from IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS by Terry Barnes Copyright © 2007 by Terry Barnes. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fifteen years old Matt Collins loved his dad Tommy, who was wounded at Iwo Jima where he found Jesus. His dad loved watching Matt run cross country and attending the Bethel Baptist Church service with his family. So Matt questions why God failed a man like his father, who loved the Lord deep in his soul why allow a drunk to kill him in that horrible car accident. The grieving teen vows God will no longer be in his life.--------------- Cerebral palsy sufferer Wade Hampton and his family move next door to Matt. Wade wants to become best friends with Matt, who wants nothing to do with the stuttering dork especially since the newcomer wants to become a preacher. As school bullies pick on Wade, Matt begins to wonder how his handicapped neighbor, who was dealt a bad hand by the Lord, can believe like his dad did so strongly in God.------------- Matt is the key to this superb inspirational tale as his first person account of how he feels seems raw and real especially when he questions God with the whys. Readers will hope he finds solace as his grief is hurting him. Wade is also a wonderful character who will have the audience marvel at the strength of his conviction in the Lord including overcoming his so called handicap. Terry Barnes provides a thought provoking tale that will lead fans to understand how much greatness we all have and thereby IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS.----------------- Harriet Klausner