All Rachel has ever wanted is a family. How could God grant her the desire of her heart, then do nothing to prevent it from being taken away? Can she wait for God’s perfect timing, or will she take matters into her own hands…again?
About to age out of a Missouri orphanage in 1858, shy Rachel listens with terror as the orphanage matron tells her she’s practically auctioning her off to the highest bidder for her hand in marriage. Rachel prays, asking God to help her and her younger brother Charlie escape, but how? When God provides what Rachel believes to be her liberator, the seed of an idea sets in motion an adventure that will bring happiness and heartbreak and nearly cost Rachel her health.
When trouble comes, it comes in a big way and those who care for Rachel wonder if she will ever recover. Rachel and Charlie face danger and sorrow, see new territory, and grow in their faith. They just might even find the desire of their hearts and realize God had bigger plans than they ever imagined.
Targeted Age Group:: 13 to 103
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I'm an avid reader, and for years, I happily served as a Beta reader. I realized I enjoyed the process of thinking through the details of whatever book I was engrossed in. I'd read to see if characters were compelling, sympathetic, or someone for whom I found myself rooting. I envisioned the characters to see if they felt real and were three-dimensional, with distinct voices, flaws, and virtues.
I wondered–Can I do this? Can I write the way I like to read?
There was no "story" in my mind when I started. I chose to create a character I could relate to, someone plain and straightforward. Without intention, I wrote my own story through the main character of Rachel. I worked through my own deep heartache of vision loss. Like Rachel, I believe I have come out on the other side gloriously renewed in spirit. This book was healing for my soul, and I pray it helps others as well.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Where do I get my inspiration for my characters? The inspiration for Thomas and his complete cuteness came from my grandson, Avery. In "Desire of My Heart," Thomas is Melvin's five-year-old son. He is wise beyond his years, tender-hearted, obedient, well-mannered, works without complaining, and cares about spiritual things. Okay, maybe it's the vision of what I PRAY Avery will be.
Perhaps the most mentioned character (in reviews) is "Grammie." Serafina Brooks is a godly prayer warrior. She is widowed and lives in Shumard Oak Bend. Her fun, youthful heart will cause you to laugh, while her deep love for Christ will have you aching to seek God.
Grammie is the name my grandson calls me, but I am not this character. She is based more on my mother. My mother poured over scripture, prayed fervently for every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild. I always considered my mom "a woman after God's own heart." She had a genuine relationship with her Savior that was nearly tangible.
"Desire of My Heart"
Book 1 in Heidi's "Discerning God's Heart" series
A Shumard Oak Bend Novel
Creeks Corner, Missouri
“Don’t look up. Just keep walking,” Rachel murmured to herself as she slipped from the orphanage steps and down the street. She deftly avoided the horse dung and other excrements from the vile men who came to town for supplies, drink, and women. Not always in that order.
Rachel had spent 13 of her 17 1/2 years perfecting the art of blending in: blending in at the orphanage so she wasn’t on the receiving end of Mrs. Cuthburt’s wrath; becoming one with the pew at the required church services so the pastor didn’t bore a hole into her soul; wearing her cloak of invisibility amongst the throngs on the streets so she didn’t attract the cruel remarks of the women or the crude remarks of the men. Yes, becoming a part of my surroundings is something I have perfected, she thought.
At the mercantile, Rachel slipped the stodgy Mr. Dodd the daily supply list Cook requested for the following day at the orphanage. As usual, with an upturned nose, he took it without touching her hand or glancing her way. With a clenched jaw, he yelled his expected, “Margaret!” towards the back room making her name sound as if he were calling a sow. His plump, red-faced wife’s footsteps could be heard scurrying across the wood plank floor. She parted the curtain and peered through with a breathless, “Yes, dear?”
Mr. Dodd did not acknowledge his wife’s question as he handed her the note. “I can’t read that woman’s handwriting. See that this is ready in an hour,” he barked without looking at either woman.
Mrs. Dodd ducked her head, gave a muted, “Yes, dear,” and glanced Rachel’s way. She lowered her head before eye contact could be made. Rachel wondered how it would feel to be treated so poorly and vowed never to marry a man with such an unpleasant temperament. She felt a twinge in her spirit and lowered her head in embarrassment that she had contributed to the woman’s discomfiture. Mrs. Dodd had the same reaction each time, yet Rachel had never given her a hint of support. It was the same every day. Nothing ever changed. That wasn’t quite true, something was about to change, she mused. In a few short months her life would change forever.
Rachel crept to the back of the store near the table laden with both dull, sensible, and bright whimsical fabrics, neatly displayed notions, and readymade stockings for those who could afford the luxury. Trying her best to blend into these surroundings, she stood as still as a mannequin, motionless like the simple day dress on display, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds as she waited. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the leather boots, belts, and tack to the right. She could smell the pickled eggs and pigs’ feet in jars on the counter up front and the barrel of dill pickles to her left. Her mouth watered at the scent. The clipped heels of a woman approaching caused Rachel to stiffen. The woman raised her dainty hankie to her nose as she passed without looking in the girl’s direction and Rachel wondered at her own scent. Baths were only allowed on Saturday night at the orphanage.
She heard the familiar sound of Mr. Dodd emptying penny nails into a paper bag. The open door brought not only the faint movement of air but the sounds of horses, squeaky wheels, and impatient children. Two old men playing a game of checkers added to the cacophony which Rachel tuned out as she replayed the scene from last night in her mind.
“Rachel,” Mrs. Cuthburt had said in her put-on, overly dignified voice. “Tomorrow we will begin the process of selecting a husband for you now that you are nearing womanhood.” Rachel had stood silently trying to blend into the wall, the chair, anything, so these words would not be directed towards her. “I have spoken with Pastor Philpott and he assures me several good Christian men are interested in bidding for you.” Bidding for her? As she reflected on these words, she realized she had missed what the woman said next, but caught, “and Charlie will not be going with you, so wipe that indignant expression off your face this instant.” Charlie. She would be leaving Charlie behind.
“Dagnabit!” The loud curse and a hand coming down hard on top of the checkers table brought Rachel back to the present.
“Bill, I swear you cheat!”
“Nope,” said Bill, “just better’n you, ya’ old goat!”
“Gentlemen,” Mrs. Dodd exclaimed indignantly reaching to pick up a wayward checker piece, “please do not argue, and no profanity in the store.” Both men chuckled, noting the startled and embarrassed face of Mrs. Dodd along with the rising color in her cheeks, and began to set up the board for another game. It had all been a show to get a rise out of the prim Mrs. Dodd.
Rachel’s thoughts turned back to the conversation of the night before and felt the familiar uncontrollable shaking in her belly she had experienced since hearing Mrs. Cuthburt’s verdict. She forced in a big gulp of air trying to calm her quivering muscles and wiped her sweating brow.
“Dear, are you alright?” It was Mrs. Dodd and she was moving towards her. Rachel grappled for something to steady herself but missed. Mrs. Dodd reached out and touched Rachel’s shoulder to steady her. Unfamiliarity coursed through her arm at the unexpected touch. Rachel took a quick, furtive glance at the hand causing the discomfort and bolted for the door, nearly upsetting the game of checkers in her haste. She ran with abandon, not considering what others might think, nor realizing she was bringing attention to herself. Her feet carried her unbidden until she reached the copse of trees near the church cemetery towards the edge of town. Her breath burst in and out of her spent lungs. She sought a place to hide where she could garner the strength needed to overcome the obstacle before her. Elbows pressing into her sides, arms wrapped around her heaving midsection, she felt her own labored breathing. These were outward signals that she was alive, but on the inside, she felt dead, and at this moment, the cemetery seemed like the perfect place to retreat.
Broken. Everything in his shattered life was broken. His wagon wheel had a split, one horse had a loose shoe, and his heart…Oh, his heart. It felt fragmented into a million, minuscule, unfixable pieces. Melvin Trexler sat atop the buckboard seat. His face, unusually haggard for his 29 years, was accentuated by thin white lips and clenched jaw as if he were in physical pain. The tension in Melvin’s body caused his nostrils to flare as he arched his back. He had been restless for miles and willed himself to relax his grip on the well-worn reins much like he’d done earlier when he had to rein in his words and not chastise his young son for incessant storytelling. He glanced behind him and observed that young Thomas was still wedged between supplies, with his eyes devotedly on the bundle to his right. So like his mother, he thought. He needed this child, the apple of his eye, to know he was loved and not allow the child to take on the grief, anger, frustration, and lack of peace tormenting his weary soul. That was unfair to the boy, and Melvin already foresaw the amount of hurt and pain that would come. Am I capable of doing such a thing to my children? Melvin pondered on the steps he knew he was about to take, the decision he had made, the agony he would endure.
The journey they had begun countless weeks before had been long and arduous but also filled with hope and anticipation for a bright future. His beautiful and vivacious Mary had painted a picture with words as they had traveled the hundreds of miles to this, this, well, what he could only now call “God-forsaken country.” Where was the fertile land she spoke of, the bubbling brooks she explained in such detail he could hear them gurgling as she spoke, the perfect row of trees edged along the pond teaming with life where he and Mary would build their house? His dream was broken too, smashed and discarded, piece by precious piece. Mary would not be there to see the dream that had blossomed into reality if only in their minds, fulfilled. He had buried her along the road some miles back after she birthed the tiniest baby girl he had ever seen. Mary had named her Cecelia Grace. A fancy name he didn’t care for, but he would not break that also. No, he would honor the choice of his precious Mary.
Five-year-old Thomas, with his thick dark hair that continually fell over startling blue eyes, turned tentatively towards the front where his father rigidly sat directing the horses’ steps while not even seeing where they were going.
In a light whisper, Thomas petitioned, “Daddy? Sissy and I are hungry. Can we stop?” The boy had taken to calling his new treasure “Sissy” since Cecelia seemed more than he could manage. He had also taken to speaking for the small bundle who rarely made a noise or squirmed. Her tiny body was void of the nourishment of her mother’s milk or even animals’ milk since they had not seen a farm to purchase any since yesterday. It was a good thing Thomas cared for the infant, or Melvin would have remained absorbed in his grief and likely forgotten about both of his children.
“Soon, Thomas. Soon,” was the only answer given.
As Melvin crested a small hill, he saw a modest-sized town below. A few people dressed in serviceable clothing sauntered down the main street dotted with clapboard buildings of various sizes. A rugged walkway ran the length of the town on both sides, occasionally covered by an overhang from the building providing its shade. Even from this distance he recognized the familiar sounds of the poorly played and slightly out of tune saloon piano and raucous laughter of the inebriated patrons–some intoxicated from drink, others by women. He saw the swirling smoke of chimneys and guessed a boarding house, restaurant, or blacksmith would require its use in this miserably unbreathable April air.
He noticed a band of children walking in a straight line behind a tall, thin woman in black. Her ramrod straight back, folded hands, and erect head suggested authority. The orphanage matron. He felt his heart drop into his stomach and realized it wasn’t the April air, but his shallow breathing causing him so much discomfort. He ran his finger around the neckline of what had once been a well-fitting shirt, now loose, the fabric felt tight around his throat.
The movement of people milling about the town and the questioning expressions he predicted he would receive from them gave him pause. There was always one busybody in every town, and he wasn’t ready to face the inevitable.
Off to the right, he noticed a freshly painted white church with a stately steeple. It seemed unusual that such a structure would exist so far out in the middle of nowhere. The well-manicured graveyard beside the church was enclosed by a low fence. Near the edge was an enormous tree, standing strong and tall like a sentry over the church and graveyard. He noticed several smaller shade-bearing trees with bright green leaves, some still unfurling from their birth, providing cooling comfort to those no longer needing their services.
He turned the weary horses towards the haven, willed his stiff limbs to climb down, and gingerly lifted first Thomas then Cecelia from the confines of their prison. He handed the infant to Thomas without a word and began to search for the last of the biscuits. The kind woman who’d cared for Cecelia her first few days of life had been a godsend. This allowed Melvin to consider his options before continuing on the journey for which Mary had been so excited. He found the jar of apple butter Mary had lovingly made before they had embarked on their adventure. He stood motionless as he remembered her eyes, so like Thomas’s. Even now, in his memory, he felt the gentle touch of the hands he had tenderly kissed so many times, heard her lilting laugh as she felt him shudder at her touch. He shakily poured a small bit of tepid water in a mug, added a bit of apple butter, dipped the not-so-clean end of a rag into the mixture, and swirled it around to moisten. This he put in the baby’s mouth to suck on until he could prepare sugar water for the child.
Sitting cross-legged on the quilt, Melvin realized he hadn’t eaten a bite when his continued thoughts of Mary were interrupted.
“Daddy, Sissy, and I want to go play.”
He pulled his mind from the pleasantly painful musings. “Yes, son, I’m sure you do, but your little sister needs a rest and a change.”
“Oh.” Thomas slowly drew out the one-word response, completely understanding he did not want to be around for either option. “Can I pick flowers for Ma?” A barely perceptible nod from the distracted parent was all Thomas needed.
Flowers for his Ma. Thomas had seen his father place dried-up weeds, a perfect likeness of Melvin’s heart, on Mary’s grave just a few short days, or was it weeks, ago? Melvin couldn’t recollect. Thomas had continued to ask to pick unusual flowers as they journeyed. Not fully understanding, Thomas would set the already wilting stalks gingerly aside as they continued traveling, leaving the beloved wife and mother further and further behind with each passing mile. Go ahead, he thought as he watched Thomas bound off. This will be the last time I get to see you demonstrate your love for the ma you will likely soon forget…as you will most certainly forget me. He was a coward.
Broken. That single word summed up his heart, his marriage, his life, and now he was getting ready to make it worse. He was going to break up his family and leave his children with strangers.
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