Tyndale House Publishers
The first time I saw him was at my husband’s funeral.
It was after Pastor Clyde said his last prayer, words meant to comfort me, Andy’s widow. It was after friends and people from our church and the community came and whispered their condolences as they touched my hands, which I kept folded tightly in my lap. It was after Andy’s father, his face stoic in grief, led his weeping wife away. It was after my parents kissed me and told me they loved me. It was after I thought myself alone in that row of gray folding chairs at the graveside, the cold wind buffeting my back.
It was after all that when I saw him, a stranger, standing under a leafless tree, staring at the casket before it was lowered into the grave. The collar of his overcoat was turned up, and he gripped the brim of his hat with one hand, lest it be blown away. He wasn’t one of those soft-spoken men from the funeral home, and he wasn’t dressed like a groundskeeper. I knew he must have come because of Andy.
Seeing that I’d noticed him, he removed his hat and approached. “Mrs. Haskin.” He stopped before me. “I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, the words like sandpaper in my throat. Meaningless words, really, in a mind gone numb with pain and loss.
“Andy was a good man.”
“The best I’ve ever known.”
“If there’s anything I can do for you, anything you need, anything at all . . . ” His sentence drifted into silence.
I nodded, wanting him to go away, wanting to be left alone. What I wanted even more was to die and go to heaven with Andy.
It wasn’t right that I should be left behind. Andy and I were supposed to grow old together. Andy was supposed to build a bigger barn this summer, and I was supposed to plant roses along the white picket fence that bordered our backyard. Andy was supposed to have sons to help him on our small farm, and I was supposed to have daughters who would wear pretty ribbons in their hair and be spoiled by their daddy.
But all of that’s gone now. All gone.
I stared down at my hands. Black gloves against a black skirt.
Black like my heart. Black and empty and bottomless.
Oh, Andy. Andy. Why did you have to die? What will I do without you?
When I looked up again, the stranger was gone.
“Come home, Deborah,” my mother had said to me countless times in the months since Andy died. “You’ve done your best, but it’s time to be practical. It’s time you sell that place and come home to live with us. Dad and I want you here. You know we do. You shouldn’t be alone.”
“This is my home, Mother,” I’d always responded—words I presumed I would need to repeat often before she would be convinced I meant them.
How could I make her understand that I couldn’t leave the farm? Not as long as I was able to meet the mortgage payments.
This place had been Andy’s dream, and letting go of it would be like letting go of him all over again. This land was all I had left of my husband, these forty acres and the small house and aging outbuildings that sat on them.
Strange, I suppose, that I wanted to stay, given it was the farm that took Andy from me. Yet it was here, on this farm, where I felt closest to him. He’d loved the land so. He’d had the heart of a farmer beating in his chest, despite being raised in the city, despite the years he’d spent in the military, fighting wars and leading other soldiers.
It was on a hot August day, as I pondered my most recent telephone conversation with my mother, that the stranger from the cemetery came to the farm.
“Mrs. Haskin,” he said from beyond the screen door, hat in hand.
“I’m Gideon Clermont. I spoke to you at . . . I met you last March.”
“Oh.” I felt a sudden chill in my heart, as if the cold wind from that day were still buffeting me. “Yes. I remember you. We spoke at . . . at the graveside.”
“Andy and I served together in Korea.”
Korea. Fear had been my constant companion when Andy was in Korea. But he’d survived the war. He’d survived and come back to the States. He’d come back to me, his fiancée. I’d thought God had kept him alive so we could marry and have children and be a family. On our wedding day, Andy had promised we would grow old together.
He’d promised me.
Fifteen months. That was all the time we’d had as man and wife. Just fifteen months before he was taken away forever. My legs suddenly weak, I placed my hand on the doorjamb. That’s the way it always happened. One moment, I was doing all right; the next, the brokenness of my life, of my heart, stole my breath away.
“Andy saved my life,” Gideon said.
Mine, too. Oh, Andy. Mine, too.
The world began to blur and slip away.
“Are you all right, Mrs. Haskin?” Gideon opened the screen door and took hold of my arm. “Here, ma’am. Let me help you inside.”
I hadn’t the strength to protest, so I allowed him to assist me to the nearby kitchen table, where I sank onto one of the chromelegged chairs.
“I’ll get you some water.” He opened a cupboard door, closed it, then opened another, this time finding the dishware. After filling the glass at the kitchen faucet, he returned to where I sat. “You’d better drink this. You look awfully pale.”
I sipped from the glass, although what I wanted most to do was return to my bed, pull the covers over my head, and wail. I wanted to scream and weep. I wanted to give up.
“Do you mind if I sit down?” Gideon asked.
I shook my head, sipped more water, then glanced at my visitor again. He was about my age, I thought, and he had thick, inky black hair, a bit disheveled from his hat, and a dark complexion. Or perhaps he’d spent a great deal of time in the sun. I couldn’t be sure which. Wide-spaced brown eyes beneath dark brows watched me with gentle concern. He had a pleasantlooking mouth, and I imagined when he smiled he must be quite handsome.
I was taken by surprise by that thought. I hadn’t noticed another man’s looks since the day I met Andy back in 1950.
Andy . . . Oh, Andy. I miss you so much.
Gideon leaned forward on his chair. “Mrs. Haskin, I’d like to help you if I can.”
“Help me?” I whispered around the lump in my throat.
“Andy was the best kind of friend. The best friend I’ve ever had. He was like a brother to me. When I heard about his death—”
He stopped abruptly and closed his eyes, as if his words hurt him as much as they hurt me. It was my turn to look away. I chose to stare out the window above the sink.
Beyond the glass I saw the barn—more of a large shed, really—the once bright red paint now faded to a blotchy gray. The roof sagged a little in the center. As if reading my mind, Gideon said, “Andy wrote me last winter and offered me a job, working with him on your farm.”
“He did?” My gaze returned to the man seated across from me. “He never mentioned it.”
“He said he could use my help with building and repairs while he did the farming.” He turned his calloused hands palmsup on the table. “I’m a carpenter by trade. I was having trouble finding work down in California, so it seemed a good idea for us both.”
I remembered something about Gideon Clermont then.
Something Andy had written in a letter from Korea: Gideon’s got the hands of a carpenter, and now he’s come to know the Carpenter. Maybe that’s the whole reason I was sent here, Deborah, so I could share God’s love with men who don’t know Him.
“Andy led you to Christ,” I said softly. “While you were overseas.”
He smiled, a soft expression. “Yes, ma’am. He did.”
“His faith was strong.” I rose from my chair.
I wish mine were as strong. O God, why can’t my faith be as strong as Andy’s was?
I walked to the sink and stared out the window at the weathered barn.
You feel so far away, Lord. I need Your presence. Did You leave me when Andy died? Is that why I can’t feel You near? Is that why I can’t hear Your voice? Is that why I feel so utterly lost and alone?
The sound of chair legs scraping against linoleum drew me around. Gideon stood beside his chair, watching me, his smile gone. “I’d like to lend you a hand, Mrs. Haskin. I thought maybe I could come out here on weekends. You know, to do some of the things you can’t do.”
The things Andy would’ve done if he were alive.
My heart ached. I felt as if my chest were being crushed in a giant’s relentless hand. “I can’t afford to hire anyone, Mr. Clermont. I’m sorry. I’ve leased the land to a neighbor for this year, but—”
“I’m not asking you to hire me. I’ve got a job in Boise as a Fuller Brush salesman. It’s not work I care for much, but it’ll pay the rent.”
“But you said Andy offered you—”
“I just want to help out, Mrs. Haskin. As Andy’s friend. Will you let me help you?”
I will tell you plain. I didn’t much care for Gideon Clermont the first time he sauntered into our building supply and hardware store and told me he was working at the Haskin place. It just didn’t seem right, him being there.
The folks of Amethyst like to take care of our own. We don’t need an outsider doing it for us.
Of course, there are those who might say Deborah Haskin is herself an outsider, living here hardly more than a year. But she and Andy were active, right from the start, at Amethyst Community Church, and they both went out of their way to make friends. They didn’t keep to themselves all the time, the way some newlyweds are wont to do. It’s tragic, no doubt about it, what happened to her husband, and Deborah does seem mighty determined to hold on to her farm.
No, she doesn’t seem like an outsider. She belongs here. I oughta know. Me and my mister were born and raised in Amethyst. Our roots go down deep hereabouts. Our grandparents helped found this town when it was nothing but desert stolen from the jackrabbits and coyotes. We’ve watched the town grow since irrigation brought life to the land and prosperity to those willing to work hard for it.
Before irrigation, Amethyst was just a stop on the Union Pacific Railroad and not much more. It’s different now. Let me tell you.
Another thing. These are good folks who live in these parts. We don’t hold with fast-living city ways. And I can tell you, the Haskins—Andy and Deborah—they fit right in after they bought the farm from old Mr. Smythe.
Andy Haskin had a real fire in his belly for farming, but talk about a greenhorn! Still, he was willing to learn. The Bible says if you get all the advice and instruction you can, you’ll be wise for the rest of your life, so I figured Andy was going to be plenty wise. He was like a sponge, soaking up advice from other farmers, always asking questions of everybody he met. I couldn’t count the times he did that, right here in our store.
Well, I’ll tell you, it was a shame, the accident that took his life. A real tragedy. Deborah Haskin was tore up inside. You could see it in her eyes, even when she put a brave smile on her lips.
Yes, indeedy. It was a tragedy what happened to that young couple. A real tragedy.
And now there was that Clermont fellow—smiling, handsome, mighty sure of himself—from California, he told me, saying he was making repairs and doing odd jobs at the Haskin farm. He claimed to be a friend of Andy’s. But I ask you, what did Deborah know about him? What did any of us know about him?
No; like I said before, I didn’t care much for Gideon Clermont when I first met him. Not one bit.
When God first began placing this story on my heart, I knew it wouldn’t be an easy one to write. The alcoholism of a loved one has touched me and my family, so Deborah’s story, although fictional, was also personal. I have known fear and denial and rage and shame and guilt and grief. I have been that person at the end of both her rope and her hope. But I have also found that when I am at the end of myself, that’s where I find Jesus, cradling me in His arms, restoring my hope. He is faithful even when I am faithless.
In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren writes, “God never wastes a hurt! In fact, your greatest ministry will most likely come out of your greatest hurt. . . . God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others.”
I read that paragraph not long after I finished writing Beyond the Shadows, and my heart quickened as I remembered the verses God gave me to end this novel: “You will have courage because you will have hope. You will be protected and will rest in safety. You will lie down unafraid, and many will look to you for help” (Job 11:18-19).
God hasn’t wasted the hurt of alcoholism in my life. He used it to teach me about the importance of surrendering my all to Him. He used it to equip me for ministry to others. He used it to help me write this novel. He took me inside my deepest hurts and fears, and I discovered courage because of my hope in Him.
Beloved, there is hope beyond the shadows in your life. His name is Jesus.
In the grip of His grace,
Robin Lee Hatcher