Looking for a fun Christian romance to read this weekend? Check out this sneak peek of my book Home to You, which is available for just $3.99 on Amazon or FREE on Kindle Unlimited! You can find the book here.
Faith Hayes was in love with Sam Huntington.
He was just about perfect, in her estimation. With kindness and patience, a ready smile, and a genuine interest in all that she had to say, he had won her heart entirely. And because he was just about perfect, in her estimation, he had become her ideal, the standard by which all men then and forevermore would be judged.
She was going to marry him. She knew it with complete certainty. They would be together.
One day, of course. Because she was only six years old when she fell in love with him.
Their mothers were friends, the best of friends, so Sam and Faith had more than just a few occasions to be around one another. None happened more frequently than Sundays at church, where her father was the pastor. He had followed Sam’s grandfather as the pastor of Grace Community Church, so the families were connected in a way that most families in the congregation weren’t. And for Sam and Faith, that meant seeing one another. A lot. They usually found themselves on the same pew every Sunday, and Faith would forego a trip to children’s church if it meant sitting next to Sam, which it often did.
Sam was a whole ten years older than her, so he likely gave it not even a second thought when she would climb across his other brothers to sit next to him. She would always carry a notebook and a box of crayons, and as her father took to the pulpit, she would draw pictures, making notes every once in a while, usually on what was being preached.
Sam would praise her efforts with a thumbs up and would, very nearly every Sunday, sneak her a piece of cinnamon gum as they sat together.
He was better with kids than any of his siblings, and he honestly thought that precocious, curious Faith Hayes? Was a trip.
Like that one Sunday, when her mind drifted from the sermon and she drew what was an excellent first grader’s rendition of a wedding. The groom was tall, with brown hair and hazel eyes, and the bride was short, very short, with blond hair and blue eyes. They were smiling – big, huge smiles that showed all of their teeth – and holding stick figure hands.
Sam smiled to himself, wondering at where Faith’s mind was when she wrote, with a flourish, at the top of the page…
Sam and Faith
This caused him a bit of a fit of coughing. His younger brother, Scott, looked over to him questioningly, saw what Faith had drawn, and began laughing until their mother shot them both a silencing look.
Faith looked up at Sam with just a trace of hurt in her eyes. He took her crayon from her and wrote, underneath their names…
She read it and crossed it out, writing beneath it…
She was barely in school, and she was already smarter than him.
This made Scott laugh even harder, until it seemed that all the eyes in the church were on Sam Huntington… including the eyes of Faith’s father, who paused just slightly in his preaching to glance their direction.
Sam elbowed his brother, ignored Faith, and kept his eyes forward for the rest of the service. And at the conclusion, when he looked at the little girl warily, she simply waved and said, “See you next week, Sam!”
And over time? He forgot all about Faith Hayes.
Ten Years Later
He hadn’t told anyone about the orders.
He’d gotten word that Friday. After eight years in the Marine Corps, he was finally being sent somewhere exciting. He honestly didn’t have good enough sense to be apprehensive about it because he was young, brave, and invincible, of course. But what good sense he had kept him from calling home and telling them all about it immediately.
The voice brought a grin to his face as he continued to walk through the hallway of his small church there in Japan, pretending that he hadn’t heard. This was standard, after all, the same routine he and his younger cousin, Kenji, played out every week. He’d been stationed in Okinawa for three years now, and it had been an ironic assignment as it came right when his uncle, Matt, had been stationed in the States instead of Okinawa, where his wife had been born, where they’d raised their children, where they were at home.
They had literally changed places. Camp Pendleton, Camp Kinser. But Matt had been transferred back that past year, and Sam had felt just a little more at home there by the East China Sea with his Japanese family just a few kilometers away. Aunt Shoko cooked for him at least once a week, Uncle Matt sat beside him in their men’s Sunday school class, and there was always a throw down waiting to be had with Kenji, every time they saw one another.
Even now, as he surveyed the hallways around them, looking out for civilians who could accidentally get caught up in the battle, he readied himself. Kenji would have better luck if he didn’t shout and make his presence known, but Sam rightly suspected that he did so because he liked them to be on even ground.
No surprises and all.
And no surprises just then, as Kenji appeared out of nowhere and attempted to grab him from behind in some completely illegal wrestling move. He held on for only a triumphant second before Sam threw him over his shoulders effortlessly, grabbed him by the neck, and slammed him right onto the ground.
Kenji lay there for a stunned moment… then burst out laughing.
Sam smiled down at him. “You’re pathetic.”
“If I think about it long enough,” Kenji said, “I’m going to have to ask questions about why you’ve been trained to do things like that, Sam.”
“Couldn’t tell you anyway,” Sam murmured. And he couldn’t. And he hadn’t ever told anyone. And never would.
“One day,” Kenji grinned, moving gingerly, “I’m going to come at you and take you down. All super ninja style. Just wait for it.”
“Most ninjas probably don’t alert their enemies to their presence,” Sam noted.
“Yeah, I know,” he groaned. “That’s my obnoxious American side showing. My Japanese side is super stealthy, but it can’t shut the American in me up.”
Sam held out his hand, pulling Kenji off the ground effortlessly. The kid was practically weightless. He would likely, one day soon, fill out like Uncle Matt and actually be a decent competitor at this game they played. But for now, he was slight and stood a head shorter than Sam. He was quick, though. Smart. So easygoing and so much fun to be around. Sam regretted that the rest of the family hadn’t gotten to know him as well since they were so far away.
“You’re still in one piece, then?” Sam asked, assessing him.
“I think you broke my butt,” Kenji laughed again. “What’s the name of the butt bone?”
Sam and Kenji turned at the sound of the bored, disinterested voice, their eyes landing on Kimmie, Kenji’s twin sister, and Mai, her best friend.
“That’s right!” Kenji said. “Mine’s broken. Sam just broke my coccyx. Think it can be fixed?”
Kimmie frowned at him. “If you go to the base hospital, they’ll just give you a donut pillow to sit on and tell you to suck it up.”
“Awesome,” he grinned. This prompted a shy giggle from Mai, which preceded the blush that covered her face as she averted her eyes from his.
Sixteen year old girls. They were all giggles and blushes like this. Sam praised God that he was no longer a teenager and that he dealt with real women now, not girls as young and silly as this. Not that he was dealing with women very seriously. There had been a few relationships in his short adult life, but none had gone beyond a few months of devotion. He was serious about Christ, about his faith, and finding a woman who was like-minded and able, at the same time, to handle what his future held in always being uprooted with the Marines… well, that was difficult.
“Hey, Sam,” Kimmie said, regarding him with an assessing glance. She was her mother made over entirely except, of course, for the rather militant smugness on her face. All her father, that was. She wasn’t rude, just frank and to the point.
Sam could appreciate this.
“Hey, Kimmie. Mai.”
“You coming to the house after church for lunch?” she asked.
“Probably so,” he said.
“I’d figured,” she said. “Convinced Mom to make something a little more familiar to you because of it. Tex Mex.”
Sam grinned. “What do you know about Tex Mex, Kimmie?”
“I know,” she said, “that it makes you fat and gassy.”
“In general, Sam.”
“That it does,” he affirmed.
“And that it’s one of those things that everyone back in Texas raves over,” she concluded. “I remember the trips back there, you know.”
He did, too. His two cross-cultural cousins, wide eyed and astounded to be around the Texas family with their loud talking over one another, their big open houses, and all the food. The piles and piles of food. Kenji had embraced it all, but Kimmie had always regarded her American family as something of an oddity.
Sam knew her willingness to offer up food from home was a big deal for her. And that she did so meant she liked him.
He liked her, too. Okinawa had been awesome this past year, as he’d felt like he was back home with the four Japanese Fishers making him one of their own.
“Yeah,” she sighed, already dismissing him as she looked over at Kenji. “You ready to teach?”
“I am,” he grinned, running back to bag he’d left on the floor before attempting to attack Sam. “Got the notes ready right here. Historical background, breakdown of the Greek in the passages, and an exegetical synopsis of the text.”
Sixteen. He was sixteen, and this is how he talked. Sam shook his head at this.
“Kenji,” Kimmie said, “they’re second graders.”
“Please, like you didn’t do the same research.”
She frowned at this. “Well, I did. But I incorporated some age appropriate methods to teaching them. What was your plan?”
“Uh… interpretive dance?”
Mai giggled at this. And blushed some more.
“Good thing I was actually thinking,” Kimmie said, pulling something from her own bag, even as other people began streaming into the hallway. “Puppets, Kenji. This is a centurion puppet and a Paul puppet made from –”
“A pair of my socks,” he noted glumly.
“Far be it for me to sacrifice to the Lord that which –”
“Cost me nothing,” Kenji said. “Nicely done, Kimmie. And hey, this centurion looks like Dad!” He held it up and compared it to Uncle Matt, who was even now making his way down the hallway.
“That dirty sock doesn’t look like me,” their father said as he closed the distance between them. “And you’re all going to be late to Sunday school.”
“Mom already gone upstairs?” Kenji asked, as his father put his arm around Kimmie’s shoulders and kissed her on the head as she smiled up at him.
“Yeah,” he said. “Why?”
“I was going to ask her if she had some Tylenol or something,” he said, making a face. “Sam broke my butt.”
Matt looked to his nephew. Sam shrugged.
They all said their goodbyes, and Sam made his way farther down the hall with Matt. Instead of stopping in their classroom, though, Matt continued on to an empty room at the end of the hall.
“Gotta talk to you,” he said, pulling a couple of chairs off the stack in the corner of the room, the joints on the metal screeching as he opened them up and thunked them down on the linoleum.
“Yes, sir,” Sam said, falling into work mode. Uncle Matt wasn’t his commanding officer. Uncle Matt wasn’t even in the same department. But he was a lifetime Marine, only a few years from retirement, and Sam respected everything he had to say.
Matt sat back, chewing his lip with a frown, watching his nephew silently for a moment. “I heard you got some new orders.”
Oh. This. “Yes, sir,” he said. “Afghanistan.”
Matt kept silent for a moment. “You glad for it?” he asked softly.
Sam shrugged. “Well, it was bound to happen eventually,” he said. “And I have no family. Better me than someone like you, don’t you think?”
“Maybe,” Matt murmured. “Sam, it’s not what you’re imagining. You know that, right?”
Sam did… kinda. He knew the work he’d be doing. He knew that it wouldn’t be much different than what he’d been trained to do. The weather would be an issue, the lack of support crew, and the heightened vigilance. But he’d joined the Corps for this kind of assignment.
“Yes, sir. I know.”
“You don’t,” Matt said, a sad smile on his face. “The physicality, the routine of it all… that’ll be like you expect. But you can’t let what you see, what you experience, mess with your head.” He leaned forward. “Because it can mess you up, Sam.”
Sam merely nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Matt nodded at this. “And you do have family, talking about yourself like you’re some random vagabond. You have a mother who’s going to flip out about this.” He grinned.
“And I should know. Because she freaked out when I was sent into combat. And I’m just her brother. Not her son. You told her yet?”
“Am I sitting here with all of my limbs intact, sir?”
“That you are.”
“Then, no, that’s great evidence that I’ve not yet told her.” It wouldn’t be easy to tell her this, he knew. It was enough that he was half a world away. Deployment to Afghanistan would be too much.
Well, she’d just have to deal with it.
Matt sighed. “You need to tell her soon.”
Sam sighed at this as well. He did. And he already had a plan. He had leave coming up, and he was going to head back to the States. There were orders for him to do so anyway, to do some paperwork back in California, and he’d figured he could swing out to Texas beforehand to deliver the news in person. He already knew the family would be on a mini-vacation to some lake house owned by some friend of the family. His mother had droned on and on about it in one of her calls, and he’d only been half-listening. He’d gotten the address, though, knowing that he could show up and surprise them.
“I’m going back to Texas next week,” he said. “By this time next week, she’ll know.”
“Good man,” Matt said. “And you’ll get a little rest before you head out? Have some excitement before you get deployed?”
Sam doubted this very much. “Not much excitement in going home. The real excitement’s going to come when I get to Afghanistan.”
Matt nodded again. “Let’s hope not, Sam.”
Her alarm went off right at 5am.
She allowed herself a few seconds to groan and flop over in her bed, throwing a pillow over her head. These few seconds were teenage seconds, spent acting like a normal teenager who needed to sleep in late.
Faith rarely allowed herself any teenage indulgences. Dates, drama, days spent thinking that high school would be the greatest part of her life – Faith Hayes was not into these things. She had bigger plans than this, and apart from these few seconds of normalcy she gave herself before anyone would see her, she was focused and certain.
She sat up in bed, reaching over to turn off her alarm clock. Flipping on her light with one hand, she gathered up her long, blonde hair in the other hand, slipping it into a no-nonsense updo without even glancing in the mirror. She’d normally start the morning with a run, just a few miles, and a quick, sensible breakfast. But today was her “off” day, Saturday, a day for being with family and having a leisurely breakfast after everyone slept in.
Everyone but her, that is.
They didn’t know she woke up early on Saturdays, and because she stayed in her room quietly getting things done, they would never know. As Faith jumped out of bed, straightening it back up just right, just perfectly, she smiled over at her desk, where all of her research was laid out.
Neatly. Evenly. Perfectly.
The paper wasn’t due for another three months. But Faith hardly considered the distant goal a reason to slack off now. She was in the middle of four different projects for her AP courses, but she’d spent a good portion of her time on that anatomy and physiology paper, color coding her research, organizing it all just so, and going beyond what was required.
She’d learned so much in the process, especially through the interviews she’d conducted. One with your standard, highly-acclaimed, widely-respected obstetrician – that was what her teachers were expecting of her research. And what they wouldn’t expect, what they wouldn’t think about… well, it had turned her research upside down, had given her a new perspective, a new thesis, and a brand new world of opportunities and possibilities.
She’d interviewed a midwife.
Faith didn’t even know, prior to this project, that holistic, natural, female-affirming birth centers even existed. She’d felt academic about the entire visit to the hospital, talking about the sterile processes, the aid of medicine, the way a pregnancy and delivery was almost viewed as a medical condition, an illness to medicate, a disease to cure. But at the birth center, she’d been overwhelmed by the affirmation, of the support, of the beautiful way birth was described, as though it was what it actually was – natural. And as she sat there and listened to the midwife speak, she felt as though God was tapping her on the back, gently whispering, “This, Faith. This.”
It had changed the entire focus of her project. And it had changed her life, honestly.
She was still on track to finish high school a year early. She still had plans to go on to college.
But she was going to be a midwife when it was all done.
She was going to deliver babies, not in a hospital, but in a birthing center, one focused on Christ and His design, on the gift that children were, on the blessing that was inherent in the way He designed women to deliver and nurture.
She caught sight of herself as she continued poring over her notes, surprised to see how bright her smile looked, even for 5am. The more she researched it all, the more she thought about God’s design, and the more she started to believe, just partially, that maybe God had even this in mind for her one day.
Could it be? Faith couldn’t imagine it. She had no time for boys now, couldn’t imagine having more time for them as life got increasingly busier, and concluded that it might not be so.
Because there was the science of it. No matter how wonderfully creative God had designed the female body to bring forth life, it still required… well, it still required a man.
Faith was too busy for all of that.
She was so busy, in fact, that she, even after waking up two hours earlier than the rest of the family, was still the last one to sit at the kitchen table.
“Glad to see you slept super late, Faith,” her mother said, as she slid into the seat across from her father and beside her sister, Gracie, who regarded her with a sleepy smile. While Faith’s hair was neatly pulled back and her clothes were almost too tidy to have been slept in, Gracie was a mess. Her hair hung in loose, frizzy curls all around her round, sweet face, and her clothes looked like she’d fought whole armies in her sleep. She had traces of mascara and eye shadow still on her face, and she smiled over at Faith knowingly.
“You didn’t sleep in,” she said. “You were studying.”
Faith frowned at this. “Maybe a little.”
Gracie laughed out loud. “Maybe a little, my foot. Working on that economics project –”
“Already done,” Faith sighed, helping herself to the food her mother had slipped onto the table.
“Already ahead of everything,” their father noted. “With more to come.”
“Yes,” Faith agreed, thinking of the allowances that had been made at her school because of her exceptional grades. She was going to the community college in their part of the city this summer and had every hope of completing all eighteen undergraduate hours before she even began her third and final year of high school. She’d sped through it. “Full summer,” she affirmed. “But enough that I’ll be nearly done by this time next year. And if I do the same next summer, with my AP credits, I’ll graduate with two years of college completed.”
“Before you ever set foot on campus,” their mother sighed. “I don’t like the idea of sending a seventeen year old to college, Stephen. Especially when she’ll already be halfway done.” She looked to her husband with a frown.
“Mom, I’d be bored if I took high school at a normal pace,” she said, taking a bite.
“Bored because you have no life,” Gracie muttered through the pancakes in her mouth. “You don’t do anything but study!”
“And you, Gracie,” Faith said, primly wiping her mouth, “do everything but study. How are you going to be prepared for the real world?”
Gracie shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe I’ll be prepared because I’ll actually know how to have a life beyond books and studying. How to have fun.” She watched her sister pointedly. “I mean, you totally won’t join me in the drama club or the cheerleading squad –”
Faith suppressed a groan.
“But,” Gracie said, wiping her sticky mouth with her sleeve, “I really thought you’d go for the cross country team. I mean, you already run every morning anyway.”
“You’re on the cross country team?” their mother asked, looking at Gracie, with her short legs and aversion to sweating.
“Oh, yeah. Cute little running outfits, you know. I’m on the ‘injured’ list,” and here, she made giant quotation marks with her hands, “which means I ‘have to’,” again with the quotation marks, “sit out and hang out with the guys’ team while the rest of the girls are running. Best. Team. Ever.”
All three other Hayes family members watched her silently for a moment.
“Well,” their mother sighed, “that’s… something, Gracie.”
“Sure is,” Gracie affirmed. Then to Faith, “And when you get to college, you should take the time to really enjoy it! Phi Mu legacy and all. You should totally rush! I’m going to, and –”
“Gracie,” Faith said, “why would I need to waste all that time making new friends when I already have the world’s best friend and real sister right here?”
Gracie grinned at this. “You’re trying to distract me from my argument. Because you know I’m right.”
“I know that life is more than building everything around time-wasting activities that won’t mean anything to me in ten years,” she said simply.
“Everything in moderation,” their father noted. “Fun and study both. But you have a good head on your shoulders, Faith. Christ in your heart. You’ll do well, even if you allow yourself to have a little fun in the process.”
“Absolutely,” she said, agreeing at least with the part about Christ being in her heart. She’d believed from an early age. Her father had always been her pastor, and she’d been just eight when she’d given her life to Christ and become a part of the family of faith at their church in Texas. It hadn’t been long after that when her father was called to Florida, to a pastorate there, and the Hayes family had been at River Fellowship ever since. It was a wonderful, affirming, challenging place, and Faith felt secure in who she was in Christ because of the teaching and the community she found herself in. “And the odds are good that I’ll end up somewhere close enough to here, so that I can stay at our church, continue to sit under Dad’s teaching, involved in our community. I’m doing all this for Jesus, anyway. Excelling, living, striving to be His in all that I do.”
Her mother sighed. “You sure you don’t want to pledge Phi Mu? I mean, Grandma Trish already had your recommendation written out five minutes after you were born.”
Before Faith could speak to this, Gracie opened her mouth. “You’ve still got me, Mom. Phi Mu all the way.”
“If you can keep your grades up once you get there,” their mother noted.
“Oh, I will,” Gracie assured her, pouring more syrup on her plate. “Already working towards success, just like Faith. I’m excelling, living, striving… to pass algebra. And maybe score myself an invite to the senior prom.”
“You’re not going to the prom as a freshman,” her parents said. Together.
“Hey, I love Jesus, too,” she said. “And that more than makes up for the fact that I don’t have a good head on my shoulders.”
“You have a great head on your shoulders,” Faith said, smiling. “And a great head of hair. It’s grown out. A lot.”
“I know,” she sighed. “I’m a mess of curls. I think I’m going to have Mom cut it before our spring break trip.”
Faith looked up at this. “Spring break trip… what spring break trip?”
“We mentioned it last month,” their mother said. “Grandma Trish will be wrapping up her trip to visit Beau and Melissa, and we’re going to need to travel to pick her up anyway. We thought we’d make a family vacation of it.”
Faith likely had only been half-listening, planning a research project in her mind, thinking on homework, counting the hours that she had left to work –
“Mom,” she groaned. “I was going to use that time to get ahead on my research paper for English.”
“When’s the paper due, Faith?” her father asked.
“Not until the very last days of school,” Gracie chimed in. “Saw that on Faith’s color coded calendar.”
“Then, surely,” their mother said, “you can take a week without working on schoolwork and just enjoy yourself.”
Faith sighed dramatically, prompting her mother to give her father a look.
“What?” he laughed.
“She’s just like you,” she said. “Heaven knows I didn’t give two hoots about school back when I was her age. I was more concerned about things like –”
“So are we going somewhere where I can work on my tan?” Gracie said around another sticky, syrupy bite.
“Exactly,” her mother said.
“We’re going to the lake house,” their father said.
“Nana’s lake house?” Faith groaned. “All the way back to Texas?”
“Yes, Faith,” her mother sighed. “It’s been years since we’ve been back.”
And it had been. Faith’s memories of their former home, the memories of a little girl, were relegated to snippets of a large church, of the musty old lake house, and of a teenage boy whose name she couldn’t even remember at sixteen…
“Well,” their mother said, “we’re leaving on Monday.”
“Nothing like advanced warning,” Faith muttered.
Her mother ignored this. “I suggest that you pack a swimsuit, a book that has nothing to do with school, and plans to spend lots of hours just relaxing by the lake.”
Faith frowned. “I don’t even have a swimsuit.”
“You can borrow one of mine,” Gracie smiled. “The red bikini would look awesome on you.”
Faith was about to open her mouth and tell them how she didn’t think a bikini was appropriate at all, when her mother cut back into the conversation.
“And the Huntingtons are meeting us there,” she said as she smiled. “Well, some of them anyway. It’ll be so great to see Jess again.”
“Who?” Gracie asked.
“Friends of ours from our old church,” their father said. “You don’t remember them, but Nick and Jess, and their boys…. well, grown men now, huh, Chloe?”
“Yeah,” their mother nodded. “Very nearly. Seth will be there. Savannah, too. The rest of them are all out on their own.”
“The rest of them?” Gracie asked. “How many are there?”
“Six,” her father said, glancing over at his wife, smiling. “Let’s see if your mother can name the ones left.”
“I hear about them all the time from Jess,” she grinned. “This won’t be hard. Sean, Scott, Stuart, Seth, and Savannah. Oh, and Sam.”
And at the sound of the final name, Faith dropped her fork to her plate.
Instantly, his face came to mind. Kind eyes, a reassuring smile, and attention, given to her as they colored together, as he slipped her a piece of gum.
“Sam,” she said. “I remember him!”
Her father glanced over at her. “If I remember correctly, Faith, he was the one you followed around.”
Her mother smiled. “Oh, yeah,” she said. “I remember that! You were going to marry him.”
Gracie grinned over her pancakes. “Was he cute?”
Their mother thought about this for a second. “Not really. But your sister didn’t seem to notice. As soon as he’d sit down in church, she’d climb over anyone keeping him from her and sit right next to him.”
“Yeah,” her dad grumbled. “Not that it meant anything back then, but I’ll have to keep an eye on him now, huh?”
“Dad,” Faith said very simply, “I hardly think that’ll be an issue. He’s probably really, really old.”
“Yes,” he nodded, affirming this. “Practically ancient, right?”
“You won’t even see him anyway,” her mother said. “He’s overseas with the Marine Corps. Japan. That must be exciting, huh?”
And as her parents talked about the world, Faith finished her breakfast, thinking about Sam, remembering more and more the longer she ate, blushing as she remembered how she had felt gazing up at his kind face, taking the gum he offered her in the pew, and cherishing every single sweet moment.
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