Given up for adoption at birth, schoolteacher Faith Holmes has spent her life trying to prove she is enough: good enough, smart enough, pretty enough. When she finds her husband with another woman––yet again—she has trouble forgiving him as she has in the past. So he divorces her. Rejected first by her parents, now by her husband, Faith begins to wonder if God has rejected her, too.
In the midst of her marital trials, Faith has to deal with surly Luke Johnson, the father of one of her students. Consumed with guilt, Luke blames himsels for his wife’s recent death. His daughter, Emmie, struggles with both her schoolwork and the loss of her mother, and Faith is determined to help her despite Luke’s resistance. As time passes, Luke sees Faith for the wonderful woman she is. But as much as Faith wants to accept Luke’s affection, she wonders if she could ever be enough to heal his wounded heart.
Rescuing Faith is a story of how God’s perfect love and truth helps two people overcome guilt and insecurity for the sake of a future together.
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Faith Holmes had dreaded this afternoon for a solid week. Sitting at her oak teacher's desk, she stared at the screen of her laptop as her stomach churned. It had been in knots all day.
She had conducted hundreds of parent-teacher conferences over the years, so she shouldn't be so nervous. But those like today's were always difficult. Plus, it was with Mr. Johnson. The one they'd had in the fall had been a disaster. Surely this one would go better.
He should have been here long ago, but he was late — as usual.
Even the dozen roses on her desk and the six other vases scattered around the room couldn't calm her nerves. Tyler shouldn't have done this — seven dozen roses on their seventh anniversary. He must have spent a fortune.
Faith shook her head and smiled. That was Tyler being Tyler. Mr. Extravagant.
The bird clock above the doorway chirped the happy call of the cardinal. Four o'clock. She'd waited long enough. Mr. Johnson obviously wasn't coming.
Faith placed the laptop in the top drawer, picked up her book bag and the vase of roses from her desk, and moved toward the door.
As she flipped off the light and turned to head out, she almost ran into him.
Unshaven and unsmiling, he stepped into the threshold. He wore jeans and a dark green sweater with a white tee shirt peeking out from the V-neck. The width of his shoulders almost spanned the doorway. He ran a hand through straight, sandy hair obviously blown by the February Texas wind. Luke Johnson looked nothing like his daughter.
"Hello," he said as his forehead creased. "We do have an appointment this afternoon, don't we? Or do I have the wrong day?"
Hiding her frustration, Faith answered with a smile she didn't feel, "Yes, the day's correct, but the time was three-thirty."
"You want to reschedule? Looks like you were headed out," Mr. Johnson said. His voice was flat, his expression cold.
"That was only because I thought you weren't coming."
Faith walked back to her desk and carefully set the roses on the corner. She plopped her bag down a bit harder than she should have.
Looking away from her, Mr. Johnson muttered, "A few minutes late and I get grief."
He looked back at Faith and breathed out sharply. "I'm sorry, Ms. Holmes. I'm still having trouble readjusting to the fast pace of life here in the States. In the mountains of Ecuador, the culture's relaxed. Times and schedules are just suggestions and not commitments. Really, if you need to reschedule, I'll understand." His words held no trace of remorse and almost sounded hopeful.
"Emmie's welfare is much too important for us to postpone the conference," Faith said. Still forcing a smile, she motioned for him to sit in one of the two student chairs across from her desk.
Moving toward the chairs, Mr. Johnson brushed against the bookcase under the bulletin board, causing the vase of flowers on the end to rock. He caught it before it fell over and spilled. As he set it upright, he looked first at Faith's desk and then around the room at the rest of the roses. A puzzled look crossed his face.
"Is this a biology experiment or something?"
Under different circumstances, Faith might have laughed, but his comment obviously wasn't meant to be humorous. "Today's my wedding anniversary," she said.
The minute the words escaped her mouth, she regretted saying them. Even though they were true, they seemed insensitive.
"Oh." Mr. Johnson said, his face reddening, his eyes dropping to the floor. "Um ... congratulations."
Brow furrowed, Mr. Johnson stared down at the chairs. Despite her nervousness, the picture of circus elephants gingerly perched on tiny round stools came to mind, and Faith suppressed a giggle. Expecting him to sit comfortably in one of the munchkin-like student chairs was insane. He stood well over six feet tall. "I'm sorry about the chairs, Mr. Johnson. Please, take mine."
Faith reached over, pulled out her desk chair, and motioned for him to sit.
"Thanks," he said. What must have been his attempt at a smile looked more like a grimace.
Fathers, in general, had a harder time hearing the sort of news she was about to deliver than mothers. And this father, in particular, made her uneasy. His daughter, Emmie, had such a sweet spirit. He, however, was another story. Faith couldn't think of anything she'd done to make him so cold toward her. When they'd first met, she'd attributed his surliness to sadness. But lately she wondered if it was something about her.
She sat down on one of the student chairs. "Do you mind if I pray before we begin?"
He looked at her with gray, lifeless eyes and shook his head.
She bowed her head and began. Her mouth spoke aloud words for both of them to hear, but her heart spoke only to her Heavenly Father.
Please give me the right words to say, and please make Mr. Johnson's heart open and understanding.
The prayer refocused Faith's thoughts on the task ahead. This young girl was her father's treasure, the apple of his eye. Words could be so easily misunderstood, and she wanted to ensure that hers were gentle, but honest. Sandwich method — slip the negative in between the positive.
"Mr. Johnson, thank you for coming. Scheduled conferences aren't for another couple of months, so I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me today." She smiled at him. "First, I want to tell you how much I enjoy having Emmie in my class. She's an obedient and respectful child."
Faith waited, anticipating a comment, or at the least a smile in return, but she received no response. Luke Johnson's gaze was fixed firmly on the floor.
She continued. "Emmie's a hard worker but sometimes has difficulty staying on task. At our last conference in December, you and I discussed how her performance was below grade level. I'd hoped that if I'd provided her with a safe environment where her spirit could heal, the academics would follow, but they haven't. I also believe I know her well enough now to express some other concerns I have."
Faith watched his face very carefully as they reviewed some work samples while she gently shared her observations about his daughter's academic and social weaknesses. He glanced away when their eyes met, unable to hold her gaze for some reason. If eyes were truly the windows of the soul, his were thickly draped. Placing one more burden on a heart that was already heavily weighed down was painful for Faith, but she had no choice. Emmie's well-being was her primary concern.
"Do you have any questions so far, Mr. Johnson?" she asked.
A shake of the head was his only response.
"When Emmie first came to Crescent Bluff Christian, many days I would have never known she was here if I hadn't seen her lovely curls in the back corner. She was so quiet and withdrawn. Rearranging the seating chart after Christmas and moving her next to my desk has allowed me to help her without calling attention to her and making her shyness worse. But I've given her as much one-on-one time as I can during class without neglecting my other students, and it still hasn't been enough."
Pausing, Faith waited for something — anything — from Luke Johnson. The silence was heavy.
"Mr. Johnson, I know this is difficult. No father wants to hear that his child is lagging behind. Emmie's bright, but unless we take special measures, she'll be in third grade again next year.
Weaving her fingers together in her lap, Faith fought the impulse to place her hand on his arm in comfort.
"However," she said, "I think with a little after-school tutoring in language arts and math she should be up to grade level by the end of May. Despite her struggles, she is a very special little girl."
The sandwich was complete. Faith tried to smile, but her encouragement was met by more sullenness.
When Luke Johnson finally spoke, his response was gruff, his face stern. "I'm, uh, not so sure about tutoring. There's nothing wrong with her. She's always been a good student. She just needs more time. That's all. You don't understand what she's been through in the last few months."
Dropping his gaze, he clasped his hands and rested his elbows on his thighs as he hung his head.
"Mr. Johnson, you know your daughter better than anyone else, and you're right. I can't understand all she's gone through. But I do know this: no eight-year-old child should have to endure the loss of her mother under any circumstance. I care for her, and I don't want her to get any further behind than she is already. I want her to be able to move on to fourth grade next year. If you'd let her stay after school with me a couple afternoons a week, I believe she'll be able to move up next fall. And if, as you say, she doesn't need tutoring, reinforcing some of the concepts we're learning certainly won't hurt anything."
He looked back up at her face. The anger was still there. "And the fee?"
"Oh, there'd be no charge," she said.
"I don't expect you to give your time with nothing in return," he said, defensiveness now joining the anger. "It wouldn't be fair. Just because I've been a missionary and I'm temporarily living with my parents doesn't mean I'm poor. I can pay."
Faith hadn't intended to, but she must have insulted him. She only wanted to help. This conference couldn't be over soon enough.
"I think you may have misunderstood," she said. "I'm certainly not suggesting you can't afford it. I'm currently doing research on learning styles of bilingual students for my Master's, and I thought that the time together would help both of us, that's all. With your approval, we could begin next week."
Luke Johnson's words were slow and deliberate. "Look, Emmie doesn't need tutoring. But, apparently I have no choice. You've already made up your mind. So, I'll allow it ... but only for a month as a trial."
One month was better than nothing. "Good," Faith said. "We'll start Monday from three to three-thirty."
She then stood and offered her hand. "Thanks for coming, Mr. Johnson. I appreciate your time."
He hesitated, awkwardly took her hand, and then dropped it quickly. "Uh, yeah. Thanks."
Abruptly turning, he practically ran out the door. Faith watched to see if he wiped off her touch on the leg of his jeans.
Closing the door to her classroom, she leaned against it and shut her eyes. Done.
She opened her eyes and looked around the room at her anniversary roses and smiled. Flowers were such an extravagance. A romantic gift that had no permanence other than the delightful memory that remained after their brief season. Sheer enjoyment for a passing moment.
The phone in her pocket vibrated. Faith pulled it out and looked at the display. Her sweet husband. She pressed the answer button.
"Hi, Tyler. Thanks so much for the flowers. They're absolutely gorgeous! But, you shouldn't have spent that much."
"Hush, sugar," he said. "I know how much you like roses. You're worth every penny and more. Sorry I have to work late tonight, but I'll be there when you come home after class."
At least this evening would be wonderful. "See you then," she said. "Love you."
"My landline's ringing. Gotta go. Bye, babe."
Laying her cell phone on her desk, Faith looked around the empty classroom at the flowers. She walked over to the bookshelf and bent over the vase of roses Mr. Johnson had almost knocked off. She gently pushed back a ringlet that had fallen into her eyes and breathed in the spicy aroma of the blossoms. Tyler knew how much these beautiful bouquets would mean to her.
Casey stuck her head in the door and whistled at the flowers. "Well," she said, "I had to come see for myself why my best friend's the talk of Crescent Bluff Christian School. I've never seen anything like this. Faith, they're gorgeous."
"Aren't they?" Faith beamed.
"I wanted to see how the conference went, but judging by your expression, everything must be okay."
Casey stepped into the classroom and closed the door.
"It was tough," Faith said. "Being around Mr. Johnson makes me nervous. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something about me he doesn't like."
Casey squeezed her hands. "Don't let your imagination get the best of you. You're an excellent teacher, and all your parents are crazy about you. He's just going through a rough time right now."
Maybe, but his actions toward her seemed like more than that.
They dropped down onto the two student chairs Faith had set out for the conference.
"I mean, Faith, could you imagine trying to raise a young child on your own while you're still grieving over the loss of your husband or wife? It has to be tough."
Actually, Faith could. Not the death part, but the single parent part. She'd worked through all that a few years ago when she'd thought she was pregnant and almost left Tyler.
"Yes, I'm sure it is," she said.
But that was all in the past. Her fingertips brushed a velvet rose petal. Things had been good for a long time. And now, they could only get better.
She should probably be more prudent, but she couldn't help herself. So many times she'd shared the disappointments with Casey. She deserved to be one of the first to know the good news.
Faith stood. "Keep a secret, Case? It's really too early to say anything, but I'm going to burst if I don't tell you."
"What?" An anticipatory grin spread across Casey's face.
"Are you sure?" Casey's tone was cautious.
"Absolutely. I've taken a pregnancy test, and it was positive. Plus, I've had morning sickness the last two weeks. This time it's for real."
Casey sprung from her chair. Both of them squealed and began jumping up and down like two kindergartners.
"Shhhh," Faith said, giggling. "We don't want anyone to call 9-1-1. You know, Tyler and I had pretty much given up. Four years is a long time to try."
"I'm so happy for you, sweetie. What about Ty? What did he say?"
"I haven't told him yet. We've had so many difficulties in the past, I wanted to wait before I said anything. But no longer. Tonight will be the perfect time. We're supposed to celebrate our anniversary tomorrow because he has to work this evening and I have school. But, I think I'll skip class and surprise him with a special romantic dinner. And then, I'll announce my gift to him — well, God's gift to us. Oh, Casey, this is the happiest day of my life."
"I'm thrilled for you both," Casey said. Turning to leave the room, she squeezed Faith's hands one more time. "I can't wait to hear his reaction. See you tomorrow."
* * *
Luke fought hard in a tug-of-war with the blustery February wind as he struggled to close the door of his mom's Yukon. Fat, gray clouds tumbling across the sky confirmed it. A nasty Texas winter thunderstorm was on the way. Once seated, he reached to place the key in the ignition, but his hands trembled too hard to insert it into the slot — not from the frigid wind, but from the icy anger within his heart. Gripping the top of the steering wheel, he pressed his forehead against the back of his hands and breathed slowly.
Somehow, he'd made it through the conference. He'd almost lost it in there.
Now alone, unwanted tears came. "God, help me ... please." His voice was a harsh whisper.
He hadn't been honest. Deep inside, he knew Ms. Holmes was right. Emmie was struggling. At school and at home. He'd hoped he'd been imagining things, but the teacher's words confirmed his fears. Emmie needed help. She wasn't slow, though. Just distracted. But that was no surprise after what they'd been through with Shana's death.
The truth? They both needed help.
Last night's conversation with his mother replayed in his mind. Her response to his question about moving Emmie into a different class had been unequivocal.
"Luke, I don't think she needs another change," she'd said.
"Emmie really likes Ms. Holmes, and she has a reputation for being an excellent teacher."
"I'm just concerned that Emmie's getting too attached to her," he'd argued. "That's all she talks about when she comes home after school — Ms. Holmes this and Ms. Holmes that. I don't think it's healthy."
He'd then sat at the kitchen table as his mother prepared dinner.
Leaving the stove to sit down across from him, she'd reached out and taken his hands, her eyes glistening.
"Honey, no one will ever take Shana's place in Emmie's heart. You know your dad and I loved Shana so much, and we miss her too. We want her back more than anything, but that's impossible. Luke, you've got to think of Emmie and do what's best for her. Just remember, even though we can't completely grasp what happened, God's in control."
Sure, she could say all that. She wasn't the one who'd caused Shana's death.
Intellectually, he should understand his mother's words, but right now, as he clung to the steering wheel, his life felt like a car spinning out of control on an icy highway with no hint of where it would stop. Or what direction it would be facing when it did. Or, even if the driver and passenger would survive.
Luke fingered the platinum band on his left ring finger. He didn't have to see the words engraved on the inside. They were etched upon his soul. My One, Forever Love. Shana.
His mother was asking too much of him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rescuing Faith"
Copyright © 2014 Carol James.
Excerpted by permission of Bondfire Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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