Beauty from ashes, p.1
Beauty from Ashes, page 1
Table of Contents
Beauty from Ashes (Orchard Grove, #1)
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
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A baby was never part of Tiff’s plans. Especially not a sick baby in a NICU, struggling for life on a ventilator.
As days in the hospital turn to weeks, Tiff grows more and more convinced that God is punishing her for turning her back on him so many years ago. Or is it possible he's working in the midst of her daughter's bleak prognosis to draw Tiff back to himself once more?
Praise for Beauty from Ashes
by Alana Terry
“BY FAR SOME OF THE best Christian fiction I've read.” ~ Amy L., author
“ ... a story that is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming.” ~ Jaime Hampton, award-winning author of Malnourished
“Alana Terry takes you into the heart, soul and mind of her characters. If I could I would give copies of this book to every woman I know.” ~ Kim Persalis, Book Reviewer
“Beauty from Ashes stole my heart and made me cry. The writing was so real.” ~ Helen, The Book Club Network
“I didn't think it was possible that the author could write any better than she already does. This is a book I will never forget.” ~ Deana Dick, Texas Bookaholic
“The characters are so real, and so human that I want to know what happened to them ...”~ Mary Lou, Avid Reader
Beauty from Ashes
a novel by Alana Terry
Note: The views of the characters in this novel do not necessarily reflect the views of the author, nor is their behavior necessarily being condoned.
The characters in this book are fictional. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form (electronic, audio, print, film, etc.) without the author’s written consent.
Beauty from Ashes
Copyright © 2017 Alana Terry
Cover design by Victoria Cooper.
Scriptures quoted from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“... to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.”
I’d rather be just about anywhere else, but Jake wanted to come this morning, and I’m sick of arguing with him. Don’t have the energy to fight. I hardly do these days. It’s a blessing, I’m sure, or else I would have said some nasty things by now. Not the kind of things you apologize for in the morning when you wake up and your mascara’s caked onto your face and your eye sockets are so puffy and black you’d frighten a raccoon. I’m talking about the really bad things. The things that destroy couples, even ones who haven’t gone through half of what we have.
Four hundred and fifteen points. I added it up once. I found this quiz online, and it’s supposed to tell how much stress you’ve gone through in the past twelve months. Getting married, that’s a hundred points right there. Pregnancy racks up another sixty, which is half of what you get when you add a roommate, and in the past year I went from living by myself to sharing a trailer with two adults and a newborn. Fifty points for moving? Yeah, does living in a hospital room count?
There was even a category for serious illness in the family, which added on another eighty tallies. As if getting married is more stressful. Of course, serious illness could mean anything from measles to cancer. Whatever psychologist or clickbait-hungry web designer invented the quiz, what would they know?
But at least one of the categories made me laugh. Problems with the in-laws. Yup, I earned each and every one of those twenty-five points, thank you very much. Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Jake’s mom is with Natalie right now, or else there’s no way he and I would be out anywhere. I didn’t want to come here, but at least now I don’t have to deal with Patricia. She’s the kind of mother-in-law who would intimidate the bride of Frankenstein. She means well. Have you ever noticed how many horrible people there are in this world who go around meaning well? And she’s a nurse, or at least she used to be, so Natalie’s safe. Physically, I mean. Still, nice as it is to get a break from Jake’s mom, I’ll feel guilty and jittery until we head back.
I still don’t know why Jake dragged us here. Neither of us thought to dress up or anything. That’s the first thing I noticed. Small country church in Orchard Grove Middle-of-Nowhere, Washington, and I’m sitting here in maternity pants. Jake’s not looking much better in that old Seahawks jersey. I look around and count two other men without ties on.
Oh, well. If people want to stare, that’s their problem. I can only imagine what they’re thinking about us, like that pinched-nose woman in the front row sitting straight as a rail. Reminds me of one of my foster moms, a single woman in her sixties, never married. Which was a good thing, at least. There wasn’t a single ounce of kindness in those sharp-as-tack bones of hers. Out of all my foster moms, I seem to recall liking the plump ones be
I wonder why I’m thinking of them now, these foster families that creep into my memory like a squid with all those disgusting, grasping tentacles. Sandy’s the only one I still talk to. The only one who was ever like a mom to me. She’d be all puppy-dog excited to know that Jake forced us both to church today. She’s like that. So preachy all the time. No, preachy’s not the right word for it. Preachers like that Bishop Cameron Hopewell or whatever his name is on TV who bangs his fist on platforms and shouts about hell, money, and sex, most often in that order. Men like him always wear toupees, too. Did you ever notice that? Like Donald Trump all gung-ho for the Lord.
Sandy’s not like them. She’s a Jesus freak, for sure. She’ll get preaching on the resurrection or salvation or the Holy Ghost like nothing else. But there’s something kind about the way she does it. Like she doesn’t want your money and isn’t about to hand you an immediate ticket to hell if you sneak a boy through the upstairs window and mess around a little bit because he says Don’t you want to? so many times you have to give in every once in a while or else he’ll find it somewhere else. Sandy was upset when it happened, but not in the angry way like those TV guys would have been. I didn’t get the sense she was mad, more like she felt sorry for me.
I hate it when people feel sorry for me. Maybe that’s why these past few months have been my own personal Hades. It’s like walking into what you think is an empty apartment only to find everyone you know has shown up for a surprise pity party, and you’re the star attraction.
I hear it all the time online. I can’t believe you’re going through this. You must be so strong. Hugs and kisses, XOXO, all that junk online that nobody really means. I hate it, but the funny thing is that if enough time goes by and I don’t get at least a message or a comment asking how I’m doing, I start to wonder if everyone in cyberland’s forgotten about me, and I throw up a picture of Natalie in all her medical gear because I know that’s bound to get a response.
The incubator picture from the first day, it went totally viral. Got something like a hundred and fifty shares. Now, the most I can hope for is maybe five or ten likes. I guess after four months of the same type of sick-baby photos, you get a little bored. God knows I would.
Jake is squirming next to me, and I feel somewhat smug since he was the one who made such a big deal about us coming to church in the first place. I think he’s trying to make a deal with God, which sounds funny when you think about it, but we do it all the time.
God, if you make him notice me, I’ll tell the world how grateful I am. Hashtag blessed.
God, if you get that anesthesiologist to give me my epidural before the next contraction, I swear I’ll never use your name in vain again.
God, if you keep my baby girl from dying, I’ll be a better person, invite you into my heart a dozen times over, just name your price.
Yeah, I know all about making bargains with heaven. And I know Jake feels guilty. We both do. Like maybe if we hadn’t hooked up, if we’d kept ourselves pure like those youth pastors and TV folks told us to, God wouldn’t be punishing us right now. That’s what some idiot said to me online at least. It wasn’t the first day, but pretty shortly after that, not even the end of the first week. Can you believe it? He’s not someone I know well. Went to Sandy’s church out in Boston. Man, I’m so glad to be away from the East Coast, away from people like Tom McMahon.
So picture this. Natalie was on a ventilator, and my foster mom posted a picture asking everybody to pray, and “Elder Tom” shoved in. He’s not an elder anymore, by the way. Doesn’t even go to St. Margaret’s. He and Sandy’s husband got into a major fight a few years back and parted ways. Last I heard, “Elder Tom” has started up a new church of his own. God only knows what sadist would go there. I mean, what kind of human being, let alone a pastor, would make a reference to David and Bathsheba under a picture of a dying baby with tubes shoved down her throat?
Sandy deleted the comment right away, probably hopes I never saw it in the first place, but I did. I’ll never tell her, because she’s done so much for me, like coming up to sit with me during Natalie’s surgery, but I wish she had told Elder Tom to take his smug, judgmental attitude and rot in the underworld. I mean, deleting that post is one thing, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue. Which is that Tom McMahon thinks my baby deserves to die.
That’s what the David and Bathsheba reference meant. I had to look it up. I don’t have all those Bible stories memorized anymore, but all it took was a quick Google search. David committed adultery. Nobody says if Bathsheba was willing or not, because let’s face it, all those men who wrote the Bible wouldn’t have thought to ask about a little detail like that, would they? Anyway, the goodie-two-shoes king sinned, and God punished him by killing their child.
For God so loved the world, right?
Can I get an amen?
I know I’m probably breaking two or three of the Ten Commandments right now, but I can’t help checking the time on my phone every thirty seconds. It’s not that I hate church. I’m not that kind of person. I know some people believe that Christians are all self-righteous hypocrites, but I could never say that. Not after living with Sandy. I sometimes go months without thinking about my past, about the anonymous foster parents that gel together in my memory like giant, faceless blobs. But it’s different with her. It’s hard to say where I’d be if Sandy hadn’t taken me in. Probably so strung out on drugs my teeth would have fallen out and my hair gone frizzy like in those posters warning kids against meth. I’m proud to say I haven’t touched the stuff. In fact, I could count on one hand all the times I’ve taken anything harder than speed. I’m sure that if it weren’t for Sandy, I’d be way more screwed up than I already am, and that’s saying a lot.
The funny thing is, Sandy and I went years without talking. She didn’t even know I was pregnant. We never had a falling out or anything. It’s just that after I finished high school, I packed up and left the East Coast faster than a hooker at a truck stop.
I never looked back. Which is a good thing. I remember before I got pregnant with Natalie, I was at an interview trying to land a job at this assisted living home. After I left the convenience store, I really needed the money. I’d already been out of work for three weeks, and my bank account was overdrawn by day five. My landlord told me to apply for unemployment, but I knew if I did, I’d have to explain what happened at the convenience store, which I wasn’t ready to do. Not yet. Maybe not ever. So I was at the assisted living place, Winter Grove, and I was talking to this shaggy-bearded director, and he asked about my greatest strength. Just to keep me on my toes, I’m sure. All the blog posts I read in preparation told me he’d want to know about my weaknesses.
So I couldn’t figure out what answer he was looking for. In school, I was always pretty good at English and grammar. I have a vague memory of winning a spelling bee back in second or third grade. But seriously? If all I’ve got to do is take old people to the toilet and back, why would this Tom-Hanks-in-Castaway lookalike care how well I did in English class?
I thought about telling him something sappy about relationships or whatnot, how I’m just full of compassion and love helping people, especially the frail and infirm who can’t even raise their spoons to their mouths without dribbling applesauce down their chins. But I wasn’t sure I could get through an answer like that without gagging. I couldn’t tell him the truth, though. Couldn’t tell him that my biggest strength was making sure I never got stepped on. Ever. A childhood in foster care teaches you like nothing else to fend for yourself. But I knew this director wasn’t looking for an employee like that. He was staring at me, his brows knit together like he knew a
“I’m really good at moving forward,” I told him. He still looked kind of bored, so I tried to explain. “I never look back.”
And I still feel that way, for the most part at least. That’s why I went so long without thinking about Sandy. Why I never tracked her down online or sent her a pregnancy announcement. As good as she was to me, she belonged to my past, the past that I walked away from as soon as I finished high school. I didn’t even wait for the ceremony. Sandy mailed me my diploma a week or two after graduation. She called me a couple times once I moved, but then I stopped making payments on my cell phone, and a few years went by where we didn’t talk at all.
Natalie changed all that, of course. Just like she changed everything else. I hope I don’t sound like an ingrate or anything. I never said all the changes were bad. Like marrying Jake. A hundred stress points right there, and the online quiz doesn’t know if we have a happy marriage or not. A hundred points whether you’re married to a hen-pecked mama’s boy or an abusive drunk who cracks two of your ribs then dumps you off at the ER before he goes out to party with his bar-hopping buddies.
The pastor’s droning on, it’s something about King David, and I remember enough from the Bible to know that he wasn’t really the poster-boy for righteous living. I pull out my phone, swipe the screen, and check the time again, wondering when the sermon is ever going to end.
The pastor’s young. Not fresh-out-of-college young, but pretty close to it. Mid-twenties is my best guess. He’s got darker skin. Maybe Hispanic. Or Native American. It’s hard to tell. I wonder if he has kids. I know he’s got a wife. I spotted her less than two minutes after I sat down. I didn’t see her talk to him or anything, so I couldn’t tell you how I knew who she was. Maybe the way no one else is sitting next to her except for that white-haired granny lady in the atrocious blouse. Or the way she kind of leaned forward when the pastor stepped up to the podium, or whatever that tall thing up front is called. And he just seems like the kind of man a mouse like her would go for. Strong. Confident, maybe even a little cocky if pastors are allowed a hint of arrogance. And she’s this shy little thing sitting in the third row. I hate it when women slouch, by the way. It makes them look so weak. She’s got these frail shoulders with this thin lilac sweater wrapped around them. Christmas is in a week and a half, and she’s dressed for spring.
by Alana Terry / Christian / Suspense have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes