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As they left the formal rose garden and started to follow the trail that wound around a small hill behind the estate, Amy stopped to take one last look at the large two-story white farmhouse, the expansive lawn and the series of white barns.
“It’s postcard perfect,” she said, admiration showing in her eyes.
Matt inhaled deeply, pleased by her enthusiasm. Next to family and friends, there was nothing he loved more than this one hundred acres.
“No matter what season it is, the view from here is spectacular.” Matt shielded his eyes with his hand as he let his gaze shift from the horses in the pasture below to the main stable with the towering clock tower and chimes that could be heard across the property, and then finally to the huge shade trees surrounding the house. The wooden swings he and his cousins had played on as children still hung from the sturdy branches. Someday, his children would swing beneath those oaks.
He felt Amy’s gaze upon him like a warm shadow. “This farm means a lot to you,” she said. He couldn’t be certain, but he thought he heard envy in her voice. And that made sense. His roots went deep, while she had yet to replant. It was as if she carried her heart and soul in a small container, transporting them from city to city, looking for the right place to dig in. Respecting her privacy, he resisted the urge to ask her what she was searching for.
“The land’s been in my family for five generations. It’s where I find my strength. It’s where I’ve learned who I am and what I’m going to be.” He hoped he didn’t sound lofty or arrogant. That wasn’t his nature. But it was hard to put into words how this place defined his life.
“This is where you meet God,” Amy wisely said.
“I never thought of it like that,” Matt said. But she was right. And suddenly a host of memories flooded him. He saw himself as a child walking this trail, wedged between his father and grandfather, listening as they talked of faith and hope and family loyalty. Things he was only beginning to truly understand.
“My grandfather always said, ‘You walk life out one day at a time.’ I guess I took him literally.”
Amy bit her tongue as if she were trying to gather her thoughts. “What if you didn’t have this land?”
“I can’t imagine that,” he said. He’d already told Aunt Lila that when she was ready to sell, he would purchase what still remained of the once thousand-acre horse farm. While everyone in the extended family loved the farm, no one else wanted the responsibility.
“No, that’s not what I mean. What if you didn’t have a place where you could come to God. Would you still be able to find Him?”
Matt started to answer quickly with a yes, but stopped himself when he realized her question must stem from her own search for God. This hill was where he came when he was troubled, when he needed to sort things out, when he wanted to draw closer to God. He glanced toward the top of the tree-covered hill and realized he couldn’t separate his relationship with God from this property. They were entwined like the ivy vines that covered the south side of the house.
“It’s easiest for me to find God here,” Matt finally said. “But God is in my heart. He goes wherever I go. Maybe it would take some time to relearn how to talk to Him if I didn’t have this outdoor sanctuary, but I would find a way to reach Him.”
Amy nodded, as if she were storing away each word for later retrieval. “I admire your confidence.”
In that split second, she caused him to reexamine his faith. Because he had been raised in a Christian family and surrounded by a loving extended family, believing in the power of God had come naturally. He witnessed it constantly when he walked barefoot through dewy bluegrass, when he inhaled the sweet fragrance of a cherry blossom or when he felt the rush of the spring wind against his face and neck as he rode his favorite mare across the meadow. And now he had to ask if he’d taken this heritage for granted. Maybe if he’d come from a different background, as this woman obviously had, he might not have found God so easily as a child.
Matt pursed his lips, then spoke with a grin. “Why don’t you give this hilltop a try and see what you find.”
Amy smiled back. “You’d share your special place with me?”
Enjoying the playful moment, Matt admitted, “It’s kind of like sneaking a girl into the boys-only tree house, but I think there’s room for us both on this hilltop. In fact, I’ll race you to the top.”
Before he finished issuing the challenge, Matt began the sprint up the steep but wide dirt trail. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Amy at his heels. Then within seconds, she reached his side, her breath even and strong. “You didn’t tell me you jogged.”
She smiled as she rushed past him to the top.
Even before she reached the top, Amy heard Matt’s footsteps slow. She took the few minutes of privacy he offered without question.
Shutting her eyes, she tilted her head back, letting the warm sunshine and breeze cleanse her. When she opened her eyes, the view from the small plateau was breathtaking. She could see for miles in all directions. Underneath the puffy blue sky, highways and housing developments crisscrossed horse pastures and meadows as the old and the new merged into one landscape. In the distance, she recognized the downtown Lexington skyline.
Though Amy couldn’t see Matt, she knew when he approached by the scent of his cologne. It was the same woodsy essence he’d worn when they’d been trapped in the closet, and she would forever associate it with the safety of his arms. So when his arm brushed against her shoulder as he stood behind her and pointed to the horizon, she didn’t flinch.
“See that row of trees?” he asked.
“That’s the original property boundary. If you follow it, you’ll be able to trace the original tract of land.”
With his free hand on Amy’s shoulder, they slowly rotated together. While she looked everywhere he directed, nodding at just the right moments as he pointed out the meandering stream, the rolling pastures and his prize thoroughbreds, her focus remained on him.
He spoke directly into her ear, so low and soft that his words resonated throughout her body. His breath caressed her neck like a gentle mist, while the spring breeze blew his scent as if it were made of silk, twisting around her body until she couldn’t move.
When he pointed out the housing development that now occupied nearly a third of the old homestead, his frustration and despair vibrated through her body.
“The developer actually did a great job of blending the homes into the landscape. He kept as many of the native trees as he could, he designed around the natural contour of the land and he even dug a pond and installed a natural stone fountain as the architectural centerpiece of the development.”
Even from the plateau, Amy could see the water spray high into the air. And she thought if she listened hard enough, she might hear the beads splash against the surface.
However, the admiration in his voice surprised her. “I thought you’d be bitter. I mean, I barely know you, and yet it’s obvious how much this family home means to you.”
“Yeah, I wish my grandfather and uncle could have held on to the entire tract of land, but I understand the economic reasons behind their need to sell off parcels. I probably would have made the same decision they did.”
“But it still upsets you,” she said. She hadn’t imagined his frustration.
He paused while his gaze perused row after row of houses. “I think what bothers me most is that this is a change that can’t be undone. The clock can’t be turned back on this development. The natural beauty, the innocence of the land is gone forever.”
Amy held her breath as he talked, thinking for a minute that he spoke about her. But that was impossible. He didn’t know how Garry had betrayed her days before their wedding. He didn’t know how Garry had humiliated and deceived her. In one careless moment, Garry had stripped her of her self-confidence and her trust in God and left her with a broken spirit. And like the land below, she would never be the same trusting, easy spirit she’d once been.
The wind picked up, swirling dust around Amy’s feet. She inhaled deeply, and for the first time since she’d left Ohio she felt a tingle of hope. Hope that here in Kentucky she could rebuild her life. And hope that on this hilltop she’d find her way back to God again.
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