A heavy fog seemed to hover over the next two weeks as my feelings of guilt and pain continued to mount. Each day the weight drew me closer and closer to hitting rock bottom. I couldn’t function. Couldn’t think.
All your fault, all your fault . . . The phrase was unrelenting and haunted my every waking hour. It woke me up at night and brought on uncountable crying spells.
Riley told me numerous times that it wasn’t my fault—that it was Daniel’s choice to leap into a burning barn and save Shasta—but I blocked him out. I was convinced Daniel’s death was on my head and I could not move past it.
By the time Benjamin and Lydia’s telegram arrived telling us they were on their way to California, my ever-growing depression made my heart certain there was no healing. My aunt and uncle would bear a grudge against me for the rest of their lives. I started to doubt that even God would, or could, forgive me for what I’d done.
The Tempter was doing a terrific job of keeping my guilt foremost in my mind.
On the morning of Daniel’s funeral, I got up long before dawn. Slipping into my housecoat, I tiptoed to the kitchen to finish pressing Riley’s good pair of trousers.
As I stoked the fire and prepared a kettle of water for boiling, several tears sneaked their way down my cheeks, splashing against the dark material I held in my hand. I flung the trousers against the table, as if by doing so I could rid myself of the wearisome burden I carried on my back. The motion caused something to slip from the tabletop and flutter to the floor, but I buried my face in my hands and ignored it.
I dropped to the ground. God—
I stopped. My warped mind told me praying was useless. God wouldn’t possibly listen to a wretch like me. At least not until I made everything right with Benjamin and Lydia. Which will be never.
Another sob tightened around my throat, squeezing till I could scarcely breathe. If only I could go back and undo everything. One mistake, one time leaving a lighted lamp in the barn, had cost me so much.
I swiped at my tears. Whatever had fallen to the floor earlier now penetrated through the corner of my blurry vision. Something white, rectangular in shape, and with a line of scrawling cursive etched across it.
Daniel’s letter to me.
I hadn’t touched the letter since the night I found out the truth about the fire and my cousin’s death. Riley had promised he’d put it somewhere safe for the time being.
So why was it here, of all places?
I curled my fingers around the paper and held it close. With a shaking hand, I pulled out the piece of stationery, smoothed it in my lap, and reread each word. When I reached the end, my brow furrowed, and I peered closer.
What on earth is this? A line of word ran together just under his signature. The letters were so tiny it was no wonder Riley and I had missed seeing it that dark, gloomy night two weeks ago.
I held the paper closer to the light and squinted, trying to make out the words. The note read almost like a journal entry—a window into my cousin’s heart.
April, 1890. I’m writing this in your barn soon after nightfall. I arrived at Memory Creek today, and just as I’d figured, you’re acting a little suspicious of me. I can’t say I blame you, all things considered. As much as I’d like your forgiveness and approval right off, I know better than to expect it immediately. Instead, I’ll aim to work hard and pull my weight so I can show you I’m truly reformed.
And whether you end up forgiving me or not, I’ll be satisfied, for I know my sins have been washed away by Jesus’ blood. In Christ, I’m a new creation. Forgiven. Cleansed. As much as I’d like to prove to you that I’ve been changed, God knows the truth, and that’s all that matters.
I have His peace, Andrea. May His will be done regarding our relationship.
Just like that, truth hit me like a bucket of icy water. God forgave Daniel long before I ever did. And Daniel had been content to accept this forgiveness even though he didn’t know whether I would ever extend the same invitation to him. He had peace. Some disappointment, maybe. Some guilt. But trumping over it all was the knowledge of his worth in Christ.
The same prospect had stared me in the face the past couple of weeks, but I’d pushed it away, telling myself God didn’t care, that He could never heal me. Yet amidst it all He hadn’t left. Instead, it was I who’d run away from Him, choosing instead to wallow in my shame and navigate the dark roads ahead by myself.
No more. Right now, I was choosing to cling to truth, no matter what happened next. Whether my aunt and uncle chose to forgive me or not, I’d do the right thing and apologize, trusting God to see us all through. I took a deep breath and rose to my feet just as Riley entered the kitchen.
His eyes widened. “Andi? You all right?”
I lifted my gaze to meet his. “Can we head to the Circle C immediately after breakfast? I want to talk with Lydia and Benjamin before the funeral.”
Riley stared at me, concerned. “Are you sure?”
I nodded. “Yes. Very sure.”
“All right then.” He kissed me quickly before grabbing for the wrinkled trousers that still lay spread across the table. “I’ll just get dressed and—”
“Oh, no, you don’t.” I snatched the pants from his hand. “I need to press those. You go wake up Jared.”
Riley’s eyes twinkled as he gave me a snappy salute. “Yes, ma’am.”
“. . . So it was my fault and I’m sorry.” I was crying again by the time I finished explaining everything to Lydia and Benjamin, but deep despair no longer twisted at my insides. Christ had set me free from the chains of heart-wrenching guilt and given me peace. Healing was not all mine yet, but I’d certainly been placed on the right path towards it.
Riley’s gentle pressure on my hand assured me of his presence and support. I leaned against him and stared at my aunt and uncle through a film of tears, waiting to see how they would take this news.
Lydia, her eyes red and swollen, reacted first. She sat down beside me and grabbed my free hand, holding it against her chest. “It was an accident, Andrea.” Sobs choked her words, and I could see the pain plainly reflected in her face. There was some other emotion there too, but between her tears and mine, I had a hard time figuring out what it was.
“My Daniel was set on coming out here to mend things between the two of you,” Lydia went on. Just then, I could see that second feeling mirrored in her expression: motherly pride. “He was so excited about his newfound faith in Christ and intent on correcting any wrongs he might have done before his conversion.” A small smile spread across her face, but it disappeared when she focused again on me. “It was ultimately his choice to jump into a burning barn to save your horse. I hope you know that.”
I nodded, the first smidgen of relief flowing through me. Riley squeezed my fingers again as if to say, See? I told you.
“Andrea.” Uncle Benjamin lowered himself next to Lydia and placed a strong hand on her shoulder. “Thank you for telling us. Please know you have our wholehearted forgiveness.”
There it was. The word I’d hoped all morning to hear from their lips.
My heart pounded faster, peace and respite surging over me in a flood. Fresh tears fell as I replied, “Th-thank you.”
Lydia reached out and drew me into a tight embrace. “Daniel would tell you the same thing if he were here.”
Yes, he would. After reading his letter and hearing more about his testimony from his parents, I had no doubt of it.
I squeezed my eyes shut and drew a deep, shuddering breath. It would take a while for hearts to heal, our barn to be rebuilt, and the memories to stop chasing me, but I was no longer guilt-ridden.
Christ had set me free.