Eminent Domain: 3, Matt


Matthew Price peered out the window of his kitchen through the swirling snow. It wasn’t letting up, and it had been snowing and blowing and howling for almost an hour and a half. He took the lid from the soup pot that was simmering on the back burner of the stove, and the window fogged up from the warmth. As he wiped the window with the kitchen towel in his hand, he could see a glimmer from the building across the road.

“Someone must have left the light on in the church. Darn, I’d rather not go out in this — Keener, won’t you go out and check the light for me?” Since Ruthie had died two years ago, he had gotten into the habit of talking to his old yellow lab, Keener.

Although Keener sometimes talked to Matt, he was too comfortable on his blanket to make much of a reply tonight. He opened his dark eyes when he heard his name, but even when Matt put on his coat, the dog refused to move.

“Too cold for both of us, old boy,” Matt stooped and petted the farm dog’s head. “I won’t make you come with me. This time.”

He wrapped a knitted scarf around his neck and pulled on his warmest barn gloves. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, you come and get me,” Matt told him, and pulled open the door. A burst of winter came howling into the warm kitchen, and he shut the door quickly before too much precious heat was lost. Keener put his head back down on his paws and was asleep before Matt was halfway down the walk.

It was slow going in the blizzard, and Matt pulled his scarf up over his nose and mouth. Living across the road from the church was convenient most of the time; he’d served on the deacon board for the past six years, and he was used to checking on things — going over early to make coffee for meetings, checking on stray lights, turning the furnace up or down, on or off. Especially the past two years, serving made him feel useful. Not that he was bored or had nothing to do. Ruthie had been the township tax collector, and when she had gotten too ill to keep the records, Matt had taken over. After she died, he kept at it and ran for the position on his own, last fall. It kept a little money coming in, plus his social security. He still helped Ethan up at the barn with the cows, and last year they had added on a small hog barn — just big enough for three or four pigs.

Stamping his feet at the door to the fellowship hall, he tried the door and found it unlocked. Surprised, he pulled it open and cautiously called out, “Anyone here?”

A familiar voice answered him from the hallway, and it was followed by the appearance of the tall, lanky pastor, Burton Stewart.

“Burton, what are you doing still here on a night like this? With no meetings tonight, you should be long gone home,” Matt scolded him. “I saw the lights on and came over to turn them off.”

“Ah, Matt, what would we do without you?” Burton smiled. “I thought I’d study up and write my sermon today, since I wasn’t likely to have any interruptions. But then it got later, and I saw the snow getting worse, so I thought I’d just wait for it to finish its work before I fought my way home. I called Denise, so she wouldn’t worry.”

“Well, come on over and have some soup,” Matt said. “I’ve got a pot simmering and some homemade bread that Lucy brought over yesterday.”

“I think I’ll take you up on that,” Burton said. “That’s the best invitation I’ve had all day. Just let me get my jacket. And come on back to the office, I have a book I’ve been wanting to give you to read. I’ve been thinking the Deacon board should read it together, and I want your opinion first.”

Matt followed Burton into his office and waited while the pastor moved stacks of books, catalogs, and papers searching for the book. “It’s called Prayer by Richard Foster,” he said. “I sure would like to get our congregation invigorated about prayer, and the Deacons are a good place to start. Ah, here it is,” he said, and he handed the book to Matt.

“I sure could use a good instruction book,” Matt said. “I’ve been wearing my knees out praying for Reenie. And there has been no answer that I can tell. She seems just as hard-hearted as ever.”

Burton nodded. “It’s hardest when people we love don’t believe. But we never know about what seeds we’ve planted, and how long it will take for those seeds to sprout. Look at Ethan. His faith is steadily growing — and he’s bringing your grandkids to church and Sunday school. That’s good, Matt. Praise God for that and keep praying for Reenie.”

Matt sighed. “I am grateful about Ethan’s new faith. I look at it as a blessing that came from Ruthie dying. She prayed for him so much — she was the prayer warrior in the family — you know that. And, well, you know…”

“Tell it out loud again, Matt. We never get tired of hearing what God does and how He does it.”

Matt smiled. “Ruthie was dying and she didn’t want Ethan to make any death bed promises he would feel bad about keeping or not keeping. She wanted God to call him in his own time, but she had prayed  for him for years. Then one evening, Ethan came in and just knelt down next to her bed and sobbed. She had this light in her eyes that had not been there for months — she touched his hair, his head, lifted his chin and made him look at her. ‘Don’t cry, my Ethan,’ she said. ‘I know where I am going, and I’m excited to leave this worthless  body. It will be the journey of my life, and I want to see you there sometime too.’ Then she touched her finger to her lips and then his lips — it was their special Mom and son kiss — and she closed her eyes and died right then with that peaceful smile on her face. I tell you, Burton, I felt God’s presence in that room that night.”

“And so did Ethan,” said Burton. He hugged the older man. “We never know who or when or why God calls. People don’t like mysteries, you know, especially as regards our own lives.”

“Well, I’d like it better if she were still here with me,” Matt smiled. “But God’s timing is His own, and that’s one of the hardest things for us impatient creatures to understand.”

Red flashing lights outside the window interrupted the men’s conversation. “That’s not just a snow plow,” Burton said, as they put on their coats and walked to the door.

“Goodness, there’s at least three vehicles,” said Matt. “Must have been an accident. In this weather, it would be hard to keep a car on the road.”

The two men bent into the wind and made their way over to the police car that had turned off Rte 492 onto Churchill Road and stopped. A wrecker and an ambulance were stopped on the main road blocking any cars from going any further south. The state policeman was just getting out of his car. “Evening, gentlemen,” he said. “We’ve got a serious accident down the road, and a woman is still trapped in her car. We’ve got to set up a road block here to divert traffic down Churchill Road.”

“Through the Game Lands on a night like this!” Matt spoke his thoughts out loud.

“Can’t be helped. No one can get through yet — the accident is still on the road.”

A large dark pickup truck pulled up next to the trooper’s car, and a man in an orange snowmobile suit jumped out. “Just let me get my lantern, and I’m ready wherever you need me,” he said. Another pickup turned in, and Matt motioned for him to pull into his own driveway.

“Let me get these boys situated, and I’m heading down,” the state trooper said. “Pastor, do you want to come? It won’t be pretty.”

“Yes, I’ll ride down with you, on the condition that you bring me back up here when you leave. Matt, I’m not forgetting that bowl of soup. I’ll need it when I get back.” Burton walked toward the state trooper’s car.

“I’ll have it warm and waiting,” Matt shouted. He turned and trudged back up to his house, saying a silent prayer for a woman still trapped in her car.

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