Vivian woke from a fitful sleep. The sun wasn’t up but she knew without looking at the clock it was near time for the alarm. She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling, the day hadn’t even begun and she was already tired. She sighed deeply as she turned to face the empty pillow next to her; it was a stark white reminder that her life had gone off the rails. If you had asked years ago if she would end up a single mother of five she would’ve laughed. No way that would happen. She was committed to this relationship. “Til death do us part.” She’d recited those very lines in front of God and the judge and she’d meant every word. But, she hadn’t seen this coming. She felt so completely betrayed and embarrassed. Was she so detached from reality that she’d missed the warning signs? And what were “warning signs” anyway for something like this? She had no idea. Her mind felt foggy, it was difficult to think straight. And yet, she had decisions to make, people depending on her. From the back of her mind came the question she’d been trying her best to avoid; but this morning it was demanding an answer. Where was God in all of this? Hadn’t she invited him into her heart as a little girl? And, granted, life had gotten busy and she’d drifted away from the faith she once held so dear; but didn’t God still love her? She’d been a good person, she had followed all the rules. Isn’t that how it worked? You do the right things and you’re exempt from tragedy? She’d never really thought it through quite like that, but it was the unspoken premise on which she’d lived her life. Right actions equals good results and avoidance of hardship; it made sense to her. But now, in the quiet of the morning, with the stark white reminder staring back at her, nothing made sense. She was finding out, because life was a cruel teacher, that her theology was shallow at best and unreliable at worst.
Thomas was such a handsome guy. Vivian remembered blushing the first time she saw him. It was spring in their little Iowa town and he’d shown up dressed in khaki’s and a pink button up. His family had made their way up the main aisle of their small church to the third row; Vivian couldn’t stop staring. It wasn’t often that new people came to church; at least not in this little farm town, and she remembered like it was yesterday. He was tall with blonde hair and green eyes; the pink shirt he wore made his skin look sun kissed and she was sure her blushed cheeks would give her away. His Mom was tall and willowy and his father stood taller still. Thomas was the oldest of three siblings and he seemed to like his place in the family. He stood proud with shoulders straight back and Vivian thought she might just have to sit down to catch her breath. It was difficult to listen to the preacher that Sunday. It was difficult to think at all, she’d never been so taken by a boy in all of her sixteen years. And when they closed the service with a rousing chorus of “Love Lifted Me,” she was sure she’d never agreed with a song more in her life. She had no idea that sunny Sunday how the two lives would intertwine. She only knew one thing, she had to know his name.
Once the preacher said the final amen, her father walked the aisle between them and introduced himself to the new family. Vivian’s father wasn’t a tall man, but what he lacked in stature he made up for in character. His pale green eyes were framed by his weathered face, and his sandy brown hair fell forward onto his forehead. To Vivian, he looked almost boyish. He’d seen many an Iowa summer, and although the summers didn’t last long, they were intense. “Hello, I’m Sonny Cooper and this is my wife Mae,” he’d said as he held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Sonny, I’m James Lancaster and this is my wife, Oliva,” he clasped Sonny’s hand and shook it hard. Sonny decided then and there to invite this new family over for lunch, he’d bought rhubarb at the Farmer’s Market the day before and Mae had made her famous pie. Fresh Rhubarb pie and new friends? Sonny couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the beginnings of summer. Vivian, on the other hand, was mortified that she’d had no warning of company. Once they made it home, she’d run up to her room to tame her unruly hair. One look in the mirror told her this would be no easy task. She grabbed the white silk scarf her grandmother had given her and tied it around a pony tail in hopes to look presentable. Unfortunately, she hadn’t done much with her blonde locks before church since she hadn’t planned on seeing anyone new. “Ugh!” she rolled her eyes as she looked in the mirror assessing the results of her efforts. “Why is this hair so impossible??” Her question went unanswered in the empty room.
Lunch was friendly with conversation all around. The two families hit it off easily and Vivian soon found they’d bought a farm across town. She paused to think who that farm might’ve belonged to, she hadn’t even realized it was for sale. News was easily passed from farm to farm in their small town; privacy around those parts wasn’t a concept most understood. No matter, she was sure this was the best news she’d heard since the announcement of the county fair coming next month. That simple lunch on the farm of pot roast, fresh peas, corn on the cob and rhubarb pie set in motion an accidental love story full of highs and lows and fighting for what you want. It seemed like a lifetime ago. A million daydreams passed through her sixteen year old head that day, most of them ending with a wedding. She was awake, still thinking of Thomas and imagining a life together, late into the night as the stars shone through the windows setting her bedroom floor aglow. “Lord, I really like him,” she whispered into the darkness. It was a vulnerable and tender prayer for a girl her age; Vivian remembered it so clearly. And that was the beginning, she’d never looked back. Despite the warnings of those closest to her, her heart was stolen on a Sunday morning in a little church in the heart of corn country. If you asked her now, she would tell you what she didn’t know then…love is blind.
Vivian was shaken from her memories as the bed lurched with the weight of her youngest, Thatcher. “Good morning, Mommy!” He spoke with a voice not yet ravaged by puberty. He perched next to her, beside the empty pillow, as the early morning sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon. Its beams shone through the window and danced off his blonde hair making him appear almost angelic. Almost. Thatcher was her youngest and most affectionate, he never met a stranger. He wanted everyone in the world to be happy, he told his this Momma often. These days were anything but happy and Vivian knew Thatcher couldn’t possibly understand all the reasons why. But, she also knew that he could tell something was wrong; that’s why she was getting the early morning wake up visits and a child that had hardly left her side. “Good morning, sweetie.” She spoke with energy she didn’t feel. What she wanted was to pull the blankets over her head and avoid the world, but what she did was tussle the hair of her little boy and ask him to go turn on the coffee pot. Thatcher quickly complied, happy to help. Vivian rolled from the bed, planted her feet firmly on the floor and took a deep breath. “I can’t do this alone, Lord. This is all way too much for me. I have no idea how we’ll make it through, I need to feel you, please send help.” The prayer was a mixture of thoughts and words as she made her way to the closet to grab her pink robe; the sight of it shot a quick pain through her heart. The robe had been a Christmas gift several years back when everything seemed so good. How could she have been so blind? She had no idea what was real or pretend anymore. Everything she thought was true and solid had come crumbling down around her. She didn’t trust her own judgement anymore either, how could she? She had gotten it so wrong. Thatcher called to her from the kitchen, interrupting her thoughts, “coffee is ready, Mommy!” Vivian cleared her mind and left the bedroom; she wandered down the hall and into the kitchen where a little boy held up a coffee mug and offered a big, toothy smile.
Vivian could hear the rest of the house come to life as she sipped her coffee. She’d scrambled some eggs and left the plate on the counter for anyone who had time to eat. She knew most of the kids would get themselves up and ready but, as her Momma had always said, there’s always one that doesn’t make it easy for you. Her less than easy one was Trace; he was fifteen years of bucking bronco teenage testosterone. He was jovial and never took anything seriously, including school. He had grand dreams of playing baseball in college, but Vivian could not make him understand you must have decent grades as well as a good batting average. She headed to the stairs and hollered his name, “Trace, are you up?” No answer. Such was the game they played almost every morning. “Trace!” Still no answer. “I’ll get him up.” She heard the deep voice of her oldest, Trevor. “Thank you, Trev.” She knew Trevor would take care of it. Trevor was her rock, the one who understood the gravity of their current situation. He was loyal and trustworthy and if he said he was going to do something, you could mark it off your list. He was the exact opposite of his father. How they’d raised such a great person was a mystery only God understood. Within a few minutes she heard Trace’s voice complaining about school as he headed to the shower. Now that she was sure everyone was awake, Vivian headed to her room to get ready. There was no avoiding this day. It was like she’d heard in church recently, “the only way out is through.” So, today, she would begin the tumultuous journey…the one that would hopefully take them through.