Labor of Love
Jace Baldwin gave up his quest for the perfect eight-second ride after an accident nearly claimed his life. He’s turned his sights to ranching, and, at only thirty-six, is considered one of the youngest experts in the horse industry. Jace spends his days working his family’s land and wondering how he might acquire the rich and untapped neighboring land from elusive Addy Shaw.
Addy Shaw rolled over on the couch, rubbing gritty sleep from her eyes as the reality show on the wall-mounted flat-screen segued to a snappy commercial. The announcer’s nasally voice scraped across Addy’s weary nerves like a bad case of road rash, and she groaned as she slapped at the cushions in search of the remote. Finding it beneath the couch on the scuffed wood floor along with an army of dust bunnies, she jabbed the mute button to extinguish the nerve-grating sound.
Her hands shook as sunlight spilled through an expanse of bay windows, making her wish she’d thought to have Garrett close the blinds before he’d run to catch the school bus. Who would have guessed, though, that after nearly a week filled with a relentless gray torrent of rain that the sun would choose just that morning to raise its sleepy head and peek over the horizon.
Addy’s temples began to throb as the ache that returned each morning with the regularity of an annoying crow of a rooster set up residence yet again.
The nagging migraine seemed to be the only company Addy kept these days, what with her nearest neighbor living a hundred acres away. This part of south-central Texas was known for its expanse of cattle ranches, and Addy’s slice of land was no exception. The property ran on for precisely one hundred and six point eight acres—she knew this for a fact since Mack had, with regularity, recited the number to her as well as everyone who paused long enough to listen.
And her nearest neighbor was Carol Baldwin and her son Jason or Jace or something of that nature, who had just returned home again after a couple of years chasing rodeo dreams, or so went the story floating around town.
Not that Addy paid much attention to the gossip; she figured the townsfolk had plenty to say about her and the convoluted mess her life had become since she’d arrived here last June.
The Baldwins lived a mile or so over the ridge as the crow flies. That distance might have been a hundred miles, for all Addy cared. She was a city girl at heart, hauled from a north-western suburb of Chicago to this godforsaken patch of land by a husband bent on chasing his dream to tame the wide open space.
Less than a month into that dream, merely three months ago, Mack had succumbed to a heart attack while replacing rotted boards on the three-car detached garage. Addy had found him sprawled face-down on the concrete floor, lifeless. A week later she’d buried him. He and Addy hadn’t been transplanted to Atascosa County long enough to build any friendships of consequence, so in attendance at the funeral she had only Garrett at her side, a preacher whom she’d met half-an-hour before the funeral; and Carol Baldwin whom Addy had spoken with a mere handful of times—the first, when the sweet, older woman stopped by with a home-made apple pie the day Addy and Mack moved into the farmhouse; and the last, when the woman had come rapping at the door a few days ago with a platter of pork chops and fried potatoes.
“How are you doing, Addy?” She’d asked from the front porch when Addy, sensing Mrs. Baldwin would not settle with just walking away, finally threw open the screen door.
“I’m fine.” The response rang short and clipped, and a shiver of remorse coursed through Addy. She’d never been one to be pointedly impolite. Lately, though, she couldn’t seem to control herself.
“You don’t look fine, dear.” Mrs. Baldwin had the habit of persistency, to say the least. “You look like you could use a hot cup of coffee and a shoulder to cry on. I brought the coffee—a pound of hazelnut. It’s my favorite.”
“I don’t want to cry anymore, Mrs. Baldwin, and I don’t want a cup of coffee.”
“Carol, honey…call me Carol.” She stepped over the threshold and let the screen door slam behind her. As she quickly started toward the hallway, her mass of crisp, salt-and-pepper curls bounced loosely around narrow shoulders.
As the pair wound their way through the living room, Addy cringed. She saw with an outsider’s eyes, for the first time, the shambles the house had become. Unopened mail littered the coffee table along with paper plates soiled with scraps of frozen pizza and potato chip crumbs from Garrett’s snacks. Abandoned jackets and shoes carpeted the floor while billboard advertising could be printed in the thick layer of dust that blanketed the furniture.
Addy stifled a groan as they turned a corner and she noted a pile of dirty laundry that spilled from the doorway off the kitchen.
If Carol noticed the disarray—and who wouldn’t—she gave no sign.
“My son Jace has come home to stay,” she announced as she set the platter on the counter that Garrett had left littered with cups, some still partially filled with soda. “I told him to stop by and check on you. He can help you shore up things around here, if you’d like.”
“I’m fine. I’ll get things done soon. I’ve made a list…” She really had, in her head, during the string of nights when sleep refused to come. The enormity of tasks mounted with each new sheet of mental paper, and left her feeling as if a cruise ship crashed straight into her belly on the crest of a tidal wave. Addy tamped down a surge of annoyance—more at herself than the kind-hearted woman who now stood at her sink, moving aside dirty dishes to make room to fill the coffee carafe with water. “Your son—”
Question 1: Labor of Love is based on Ecclesiastes 2:10, a verse that encourages us to take delight in our work. How does this apply to the story's theme?
Question 2: Addy is in a state of deep depression that affects her daily activities. Describe her behavior and its impact on her son, Garrett.
Question 3: Describe the events that served to bring Jace home to the family ranch. How does Jace feel about this homecoming?
Question 4: Addy questions why God brought her to Texas only to leave her feeling stranded and alone. Describe an event when you may have questioned God's plan for your life.
Question 5: Addy struggles with Garett's coming-of-age and the manner in which he deals with his grief. How does Jace help to ease Addy's fears?
Question 6: Both Addy and Jace are 'broken' in a number of ways. How do they help each other to heal? What impact does their faith have on this healing process? Explain?
Question 7: Describe one or two specific ways in which Jace gains Garrett's trust. How does this strengthen his relationship with Addy?
Question 8: Describe what Addy must have been feeling when she realized she was pregnant.
Question 9: Describe Jace's reaction when Addy shares that she is pregnant. What does this say about him as a man...about his faith?
Question 10: What do you think the future holds for Addy and Jace...for Garrett?