A Spiritual Investment

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
"There's no such thing as a bad investment when the Lord's involved!" Says the Shepard to her Flock.

Submitted: March 29, 2017

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Submitted: March 29, 2017



A great oak tree sits beside the highway that runs between Jane’s farm and my farm, its thick branches stretching heavenward. Jane’s already on one of those branches waiting for me. We’d decided, last week, to run away from our settlement. To find adventure and a better life.

‘Ma was acting weird tonight.’ I say. 

‘Just tonight?’ Jane climbs down the tree and lands on the ground in front of me.

With a chuckle I tell her to be quiet and lead us away from the great oak tree, towards the surrounding cornfields. ‘We better get going if we want to get off the farm tonight.’ I say as we enter the forest of cornstalks. We march through it for nearly two hours before taking a rest in-between two rows of corn. Together we lie down on the dry, soft dirt.

‘I forgot how large your farm was.’ Jane turns towards me and yawns. ‘I’m just going to rest my eyes for a bit.’

I tell her that’s okay and flop onto my back.

Before I fall asleep, I think back to what got me, a twelve year old boy, to run away from home.

About six years ago an old man led Mother, Father, and I through his farm. ‘Ground’s not too keen on growing anything lately,’ he muttered, ‘but the property’s good for a simple dairy farm.’ He led us down the dirt road that stretched from the farm to the highway. The four of us stood before the barren, dry fields that stretched beyond the horizon.

Father scooped me up and placed me on his shoulders. ‘You see this land?’ He whispered as he pointed at the desolate fields. ‘I’m gonna plant corn, son. No matter what they say, I’ll make this farm profitable. Mark them words, boy.’ He set me down and turned to the old man, his usual frown now a wide smile. ‘We’ll take it.’ The two men shook hands and stepped away to discuss details.

Mother’s smile was absent. ‘Settlement better have a good church,’ she remarked, staring at me and then at the old crumbling house and the equally dilapidated barn. With a sigh she shuffled back towards the car, leaving me to stand on the dirt road by myself.

Those next several years saw our newly purchased farm blossom. Just as Father had promised, the land began to produce corn. At first it was just the three of us working from sunrise until sundown. Soon, however, the work was too much for our small family and a few of our cousins and uncles drove in to work on the farm. Big, loud, hungry machines were purchased while Mother watched from the porch, reading the Bible. Our forth harvest brought us our first surplus. ‘We did it, boy!’ Father lifted me up once more, even though I’d grown much heavier. He quickly set me down and ruffled my brown hair with his calloused, grimy hands. He embraced Mother, who stood stiffly in his arms before a smile broke her frown.

‘Just remember,’ she said softly, pulling away from him, ‘that it was the Lord who blessed us with the harvest.’

‘Of course!’ Father lifted his hands up to the heavens, ‘Hallelujah, praise the Lord!’ And with that said, he gathered the boys and me into the house to celebrate with booze and good food. Mother objected to me trying alcohol but this only made the men laugh. I took a sip of warm beer and promptly spat it out. Eventually Mother left and sat out on the porch, dozing off sometime before midnight.

The following Sunday Mother and I went to church, as we always did. Father, for the first time since moving to the settlement, stayed home. We sat in our usual place in the back of the church. A few other churchgoers greeted us, but they still seemed like strangers. Mother was very polite, but her conversations with others in church were usually short-lived and sparse. Father always drove us there late and had us leave right after the sermon concluded.

Now that it was just Mother and I, she found time to talk with those around us.

When the service began, a new pastor took to the pulpit. A woman pastor. Her family had just moved into the farm across the highway from us. After introductions were made, she began her sermon. She talked of Job and how God let Satan test him. How, despite all the trials and tribulations, Job remained steadfast and obedient. ‘God not only restored his fortunes, but he blessed him with seven sons and three daughters. Children are a blessing from our Heavenly Father, the more children one has, the more one is blessed.’ The pastor, with her wrinkled brow lathered in sweat, motioned over to where her husband and family sat on the front pew. ‘God has blessed us with ten children also. We may not have suffered like Job, but God has seen our faith and blessed us accordingly. Likewise, God can bless you too. If you invest in Him and serve Him all your life, with your love and your finances.’

One of the ten children, a girl with black hair, turned in her pew. And though I was only nine years old, I did feel something when she caught my stare. Perhaps she felt it too, for after the sermon she walked towards Mother and me. I sat sheepishly on the pew as she came up and sat down beside me, asking for my name.

‘Edward.’ I said looking at the floor.

‘A pleasure to meet you, Edward. I’m Jane.’ She had affected a grown-up voice and stuck out her hand. I reached to shake it, but she quickly pulled her hand back and laughed as I nearly lost my balance.

‘Hey! That’s not nice.’ I told her this as a matter of fact, but she only laughed harder. That infectious smile was difficult to fend off and it soon became a smile that I depended on, especially as Mother and Father began to argue more and more. At first it was just small squabbles, but the poorly insulated house soon became a stage for louder, harsher fights. The worst of the arguments always came after a day spent with the pastor and her family, who thanks to my friendship with Jane, had become our closest friends in the church.

We went over for lunch nearly every second Sunday. Jane’s mother, who we were to call Pastor Angela, would always ask if my father might come along someday.

‘Oh he’s real busy with the farm,’ Mother would say between mouthfuls of a sandwich, ‘I know he’d love to come, if he could.’ She dabbed at her mouth with a napkin, but was unable to meet the pastor’s stare.

‘That farm’s doing real fine.’ Pastor Angela noted with a faraway look in her eyes. ‘Must be very profitable. Lord’s blessing you – financially speaking, of course.’

‘The Lord’s blessed us too.’ Henry, Pastor Angela’s husband, said with a smile. ‘We’ve fallen on some tough times, but he’s seen fit to bless us with ten children. That’s the real blessing.’

Mother only smiled at him before taking another bite of her sandwich.

‘That’s right. We’ve invested spiritually in the Lord, and He’s given us plenty of children. Financial blessings are fine and all, but if you don’t invest those financial rewards in God, then, well, God notices those kinds of things.’ She smiled warmly at Mother and then at me before taking a large bite out of her sandwich.

Although Mother enjoyed visiting with the pastor, she always left with a sad look in her eyes. I would say goodbye to Jane and would look forward until the next Sunday, even if we saw one another in secret out at the great oak tree.

It was during the worst fights my parents had that I would sneak out of the house to meet up with Jane. During the summer we’d go there almost every night, sometimes her other siblings would also come along. When she wasn’t there, I would simply climb up the tree as high as I could, and sit up in the tallest branches, watching as the farms and people below me became simple patterns on the ground.

‘The Lord’s punishing us, George!’ I heard Mother shout as I snuck back into my room one of those nights. ‘I always wanted more children. But God won’t let me with you acting like this. Drinking nearly every night, never reading your Bible, and not investing in the church!’

‘Marla, I ain’t giving a single dime to someone who ain’t earned it. I built this farm! Not God, and not that damn pastor. Take a look! How could God be punishing us?’

‘Because this house is so quiet, George! We need more children, they’re a blessing from the Lord. Lord’s blessed Pastor Angela with ten children!’

‘We have a son, Marla!’

She struck him on the face, her eyes fierce. ‘Don’t tell me that, George. I take him with me to church every Sunday when you’re too drunk to get out of bed. I love our boy! But only one child? You know we’ve tried, and yet –’ she paused and her voice softened, ‘I even painted the baby’s room. Blue. Our new baby boy will love it.’

He frowned and rubbed his reddening cheek, ‘You painted the room?’

‘It’s an investment, George. An act of faith. That’s what the pastor says we need to do – invest in Him, George. Then we’ll see the blessings of children, of a family. Not just more and more crops!’

It was the same old argument that they’d been having for years now.

The night I left with Jane, I saw Mother sitting out on the porch. She was reading from the Bible and had three cans of gasoline sitting beside her. It was already pretty late and she was reading by the dim porchlight.

I stepped on a creaky board and she turned around, detecting me through the screen door.

‘Edward!’ She snapped her fingers and I hesitantly opened the door. ‘Why are you up so late?’ Her brow furrowed and she gestured at me to come towards her.

‘Sorry ma, just seeing who was on the porch.’

‘Don’t lie, boy. I don’t want you going out. Ever – but especially not tonight. You hear me? You stay in your room!’

‘Alright, ma.’ I went to close the door, and as I did, I heard the last words she spoke to me, though I’m sure that wasn’t her intention: ‘Foolish boy, just like his father. I’m trying, Lord. Trying to be a good servant, but my family’s lost sight of you. They won’t invest, Lord. So I will.’ I heard her lift one of the gasoline tanks off the porch.

Later that night, I ran away.

Now, as I’m lying in-between rows of corn with Jane sleeping beside me, my half-asleep dreams and memories fading away, I begin to cough. My eyes open and I gasp for breath, seeing thick, black smoke all around me.

I begin to feel immense heat against my back. Jane’s still asleep, and when I try to wake her up, her eyes remain closed. The smoke condenses and curls around us. Past the rows of corn and smoke I see columns of fire not far off.

Is that my mother humming?

I try to get up, but I can’t see the way out. The smoke is too dense and the cornfields too expansive. I fall back down to the dirt and my throat and lungs ache and burn.

Has Mother intended her investment to be a sacrifice?

My vision grows hazy and my mind begins to disperse. I collapse beside Jane and the last thing I see is her soft skin illuminated by golden, burning light.

My eyes close and I wonder if Mother ever counted the cost of her spiritual investment. 

© Copyright 2018 Matthew D. Hay (Tangible Word). All rights reserved.

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