The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

Requiem at Mission Springs Episode 164
Mark’s story

“What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief’s to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.”

***
I listened to Pa sing the familiar words in the seat beside me. Lou sat on the other side of me as she sang these words in her beautiful, Irish accent. But never did I realize how familiar these words would become to me over the next weeks.

Reverend Jacobson held up his hands and gave us our blessing before dismissing us. I turned and greeted several fellow North Forkers as they gathered up their families and started for the door. Freddie hurried over to me and announced he had fishing plans. I opened my mouth to respond, but suddenly felt a hand around the back of my neck. “Sorry Freddie, not today. Mark has chores to do.”

“But-“ I started as I turned to Pa. Pa raised his eyebrows at me. I ignored the look as I explained, “Today is Sunday, Pa! Remember? The day of rest? You always say that-“

“Yes, today is Sunday the day of rest. But you took your day of rest a day early if you remember. You didn’t get half your chores done.” Pa gave me a look that told me the discussion had come to an end.

“Besides, Mark, you wouldn’t want to miss out on my Irish stew, would you?” Lou reminded me. She was coming out to the ranch with us this afternoon to cook us a real lunch. She felt my being a growing boy required more of a woman’s touch to the meals every now and again. Today was the day for that.

I allowed a groan to escape me. Now, it’s not that I don’t like her stew – it’s okay. It was just a little too…Irish…But, Pa cleared his throat and I immediately jumped in and assured Miss Lou that I was DEFINITELY looking forward to eating her stew.

When we got to the ranch, Pa advised me to go ahead and start on my studies until after lunch. Then when I was done with the dishes, I would work on the chores I didn’t get done yesterday. I again reminded him about his feelings of Sunday, and he again reminded me about who made the rules around the McCain ranch – and it wasn’t me!

So that’s how I got stuck at home while Pa and Miss Lou went for a horseback ride to enjoy the nice fall day. Now granted, I understand that everyone likes a clean house with clean floors, clean laundry, and clean dishes. But no matter how old or mature I got, I would always see the chores Pa was sticking me with this afternoon as women’s work. All the same though, Pa reminded me that a woman didn’t live here and none would be living here anytime in the distant future. So again, since I was the Junior Partner of the ranch, I got stuck with all the tedious tasks – and today was one of those days!

I suppose that’s why I was very, very happy to see Lou’s riding hat still sitting on the kitchen table where she had forgotten it. Let’s face it, even at 14, I would find ANY excuse to get out of doing chores! It was one of those windy days where a woman not wearing a hat would also get really annoyed with her hair blowing every which way, and you know how easily riled Miss Lou gets! So, that’s why I decided to go ahead and mount my horse so I could deliver Miss Lou her hat.

I must admit that I was also very excited to be riding across the range with Blue Boy! With the wind blowing somewhat, I felt like I was flying! Today had been a wonderful day. Lou had become a good friend with Pa and I over the last several months. Granted, she wasn’t as special as Milly was, but then I don’t think anyone could ever match Milly!

I laughed as I raced on ahead. I saw Pa and Lou in the distance. I waved the hat above my head. “Pa! Pa!” I yelled as I tried to get his attention. But suddenly, Blue Boy stumbled. I don’t really remember much after that…I must have hit my head or something, because the next thing I know, Pa wass beside me. I heard him call my name and lift me up. “Are you hurt son?”

Things were still kind of groggy, but I didn’t think I was hurt. At least, it didn’t seem like I was hurt anywhere. Pa helped me to my feet. “I’m alright, Pa,” I said. But my mind was sort of groggy. Suddenly, I fell to the ground. Something just wasn’t right! Something strange had happened…

“You are hurt, son.” I heard the concern in Pa’s voice.

I hate to admit it, but I was scared too. I was really scared. The truth was, I couldn’t feel my legs! I told Pa that it felt like…I didn’t even have any… “It’s like…I don’t have any legs at all!” I cried.

Pa looked at me. I saw fear enter his eyes. That scared me even more. Right now, I needed him to reassure me. Pa slowly stood up and walked over to Lou. I saw Lou put a hand on Pa’s shoulder as they whispered to each other. I watched Pa’s shoulders slump. He slowly turned around. “Son, you’re legs…do they hurt?”

I looked down at them. I touched one of them. I couldn’t even feel my hand touching! I mean, my hand felt my leg, but my leg felt nothing! I looked up at Pa as my eyes filled up with tears. “What’s wrong with my legs?” I asked.

Pa turned to Lou. He needed her strength. “Go for the buckboard, Lucas. I’ll stay with Mark.” Lou’s voice cracked as she hurried over and sat down beside me. I watched as Pa jumped on his horse and raced off toward the ranch.

Lou wiped her eye. “What’s this mean?” I asked.

Lou looked at me. She tried to smile. “I…I…I don’t know, Mark. Perhaps…perhaps you hit your head and it just takes a few-“

But I knew the truth. “You don’t really believe that. Do you?” My voice cracked. I was trying to stay strong, but it was hard. I’d heard of folks getting bucked off of horses or falling off of wagons – seemingly unhurt - and never walking again. No one really understood why it happened, except it had something to do with the head and back.

“You’ll be okay, Mark,” Lou said as she rested a hand on my cheek. “Just believe you’ll be okay! Why, it was only a simple fall – that’s all…only a simple…” Lou stopped. She could no longer go on.

I turned away as tears fell from my eyes. I reached down and touched my legs, but I still felt nothing. “No!” I suddenly cried. I pulled my legs and bent them under me with my hands, and tried to sit up on my knees, but I crumpled to the ground.

“Oh Mark, please stay still! You could hurt yourself!”

I suddenly felt angry. I flung her arms off of me and laid in the dirt. “Leave me be! I’m not a child who needs cared for!” I turned and saw her land with a thud in the dirt. “Oh…I’m sorry!” I cried suddenly. “I’m sorry!”

We finally heard Pa coming with the wagon. When Pa jumped down and ran over to me, he looked at Lou. I didn’t take my eyes off my father, but from the deepening frown on his face, I’d say she shook her head at him. Pa forced a smile on his face. “Well son, it’s been a while since I’ve had to carry you. Let’s see how strong your old man is.”

But as he bent down toward me, I shook him off. “No!” I yelled. “Nobody’s gonna carry me!” I again tried to lift myself up, but my legs were nothing. They wouldn’t move. They had no life in them. “Nobody’s gonna…” I couldn’t help myself as I laid down in the dirt and wept.

Pa was there. He lifted me up into a sitting position and kneeled beside me. He put his strong arms around me and cried with me for only a moment. Then he put his hands on my face and pulled me back so I could look into his eyes. “Now Mark…” He said in a very stern voice. “You listen to me, Mark! You’ve got to have faith! You can’t break down like this, do you hear me?” His voice broke at the end. He then scooted his arm under my knees and lifted me as I wrapped his arm around my neck. He turned toward Lou. “Can you-“

Lou nodded. “I’ll run like the wind for the doctor, Lucas. I promise he’ll be here soon!”

I heard Lou’s horse take off like lightening. Pa gently sat me in the back of the wagon and put the back up so I wouldn’t fall out – just like when I was little! Pa started to step up into the seat. “Blueboy!” I cried. “Don’t forget-“

“I’m sure he’s back home by now, son. Blueboy’s the least of my worries.” I heard something in Pa’s voice. It sounded like disgust…blame…or maybe remorse…

When we got home, Pa lowered the back and carefully lifted me out. “That’s my boy,” Pa said as I wrapped my arms around him. He stood there for a minute and sighed as he laid his head against my chest. I heard him whispering. It took me a minute to realize that he was praying. “Let’s get you to bed.”

We went inside. Pa lowered me into the bed. I watched as he took off my boots…my socks…then my pants. He began rubbing my feet and legs. “You’ll be okay, son. We just have to get the blood circulating back through your legs – that’s all. The fall just scared you. Here…” Pa grunted as he rubbed really, really hard. He looked up into my face. The he stopped. “That doesn’t hurt?”

“What?” I asked.

Pa lifted his hands from my legs and looked at them as if they were supposed to hold some sort of magic. He looked up at me then stood up. I watched him walk over to the window. He peered outside for a time, then hit the window sill. “Where’s the doctor?”

His actions scared me. He’d always tried to stay strong and positive for me. Now he was…so weak even in my presence. “Pa?” Pa turned at the sound of my voice. “Pa, what’s wrong with me?”

“I…I don’t know, son. I’m sure as soon as the doctor get’s here, he’ll fix you up like new. I’m…sure of it.” I watched Pa slowly turn toward the wall where my mother’s picture hung. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

It was a long, long wait for the doctor. Neither of us spoke much because neither of us knew what to say.

Then I heard Pa’s voice. It was really quiet at first as he looked out the window. Then it became stronger. I realized what he was saying…He was speaking the words we had sung in church just that morning…

“What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Suddenly, we heard a wagon pull up and a voice yelled, “HO!”. Pa hurried to the door and left. I laid there in bed. My head sunk into the pillow as I waited. Soon, Pa walked back inside with Dr. Burrage. Dr. Burrage sat down in a chair next to my bed and pulled back the covers. “I heard you had a bad fall this morning,” he mumbled as he touched my legs gently.

“Blue…The horse, Doc…” Pa stammered. “He threw Mark.”

“No Pa. The cinch broke!” I argued.

“He threw my son…I…” Pa couldn’t speak.

Doc looked up at my head. He started feeling around it. “How did you land, Mark? Did you hit your head? Your back?”

“I…I don’t remember…” I looked up at Pa. He just turned away. I saw Lou go to him. She put a hand to his back and spoke gently to him.

“Lucas, do you remember?” Doc asked.

“His back…I think…No, maybe his head…” I gasped as Pa hit the wall again. “I don’t know! I just don’t know!” Pa boomed. “I just saw that horse…”

“Lucas, calm down!” Lou again put a hand to his back. I closed my eyes. How could I have done this to Pa? How could this have happened?

Doc sat me up and ran a hand down my back. “Does your back hurt, son?” I shook my head.

He moved my head up and down and from side to side, then around in circles. “Any pain at all?”

“No,” I answered softly. “There’s…nothing.”

Doc Burrage opened his bag and took out a long needle. “I’m going to poke you gently with this, okay?”

My eyes grew wide. “Doc, I’ve never been a big fan of your needles.”

“It’s okay, Mark. I won’t hurt you.”

Pa hurried over to the bed and bent down next to me. He took my hand as if I was a ten year old little boy again. “Let the doctor work, son. He’s trying to help you.”

I nodded as I squeezed Pa’s hand. “Now you just lay back there and look up at the ceiling, son. I’m going to be gentle.” I did as I was told and waited, but I never felt anything. After several moments, the doctor cleared his throat. “Do you feel it?”

“Feel what? Did you poke me?” I asked.

I saw Pa suddenly put a hand to his mouth. He hurried over to the window and bent his head down. I could tell he was crying. Lou turned toward the wall and shot a hand to her own mouth. I turned toward the doc. “Doc?”

Doc Burrage slowly stood up. “You rest now, Mark. I…I’ll be just outside. We’ll give it an hour then try again.” Doc turned to Lou. “You got some broth to give him? Maybe it’ll help him.”

I could tell by the way Doc was talking that he was trying to keep us occupied while the time passed. I watched as Lou hurried out of the room, followed by Doc Burrage. Pa turned from the window and walked over to my bed. He bent down next to me and touched my hand. “No matter what, son…I’m here for you….I’m here.” Then he laid a light kiss on my forehead and hurried out of the room.

The door closed firmly behind him. This time, I couldn’t run to the door to listen to the adults talk. This time, I had no choice but to lay there and cry.

I laid there in bed listening to the quiet murmurings coming from the other room. I sighed as many thoughts ran through my head. I had time alone to ask myself so many questions. Why did Pa blame Blue Boy for my fall when it was obviously my fault? Why couldn’t I walk? Why were they talking behind my back? Would I ever be able to walk again? Would I ever become a man? Why didn’t Pa just let me go fishing with Freddie after church?

I was so intent on my questions that I didn’t hear the door open. Lou came in with a tray and quickly closed the door, it startled me. She had a smile on her face as she sat the tray down. She helped me into a sitting position, smiling the whole time. Then she put the tray on my lap. “It’s nice, hot soup, Mark. Your father wants you to eat it all.”

I picked up the spoon and stared into the bowl. But I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. “Miss Lou?” I looked up at her. “What are they talking about out there?”

Lou looked toward the door. A confused expression was on her face as she tried to decide on how to answer my question. Then she turned back toward me. “I think you’re smart enough to figure that out, Mark,” she answered simply.

“They’re trying to decide what to do with me now that I’m a…” I swallowed. “…a cripple.”

“You’re no such thing!” Lou exclaimed. “Don’t even think about that! The doctor’s not going to jump to any conclusions just yet. He wants to give it until tomorrow – see if your feeling will come back. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss this again, but not before!” She pointed into my soup. “Now eat!”

I again lifted my spoon. This time I forced myself to eat some of the soup. “You’ll stay here?” I looked up at Lou. “I mean…Pa…he needs you right now.”

Lou nodded. “I’ll stay right here for as long as you two need me,” she answered.

“I know it’s not proper for…” I sighed. “I mean all night and all…but…”

Lou smiled. She laid a hand on mine. “Now Mark, don’t you go worrying about what’s proper and what’s not! Right now all that matters is getting you better.”

“What about Pa?” I asked.

Lou shrugged. “What about him, Mark?”

“He’s blaming Blue Boy.”

“Oh.” Lou leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. “Mark…adults are a lot like kids. They want something…or somebody…to blame for what happens. Your father can’t blame you because he loves you and is worried. He can’t blame himself because…well…then he couldn’t be here for you like he needs to be. Blueboy was there and being a horse instead of a person, it’s easier to blame him. He needs that right now.”

“But it wasn’t Blueboy’s fault!” I insisted. “I didn’t tighten the cinch tight enough. If I had-“

“Stop right there!” Lou bolted forward and pointed her finger at me. “Don’t you dare start blaming yourself, Mark McCain!” I took another bite of my soup as she sat back in her chair. “It was a simple mistake – that’s all! It just happened. Casting blame and trying to understand why isn’t going to get you better.”

I nodded, knowing she was right. But it was still hard not looking back on the situation. “Before you walked in here…I was just about to blame Pa for not letting me go fishing like I wanted.”

“…or God for letting the horse stumble…or me for insisting on racing Lucas across the prairie or forgetting my hat…or even Micah for not joining us for lunch…” Lou placed another hand on mine. “Mark, we can always find someone to blame. But the truth is…it was just an accident – nothing more.”

I sat my spoon down. “I can’t eat anymore.” Lou nodded and lifted the tray from me. “If Pa has a problem with it, just tell him to come in here and dump it down me!” I leaned my head against the wall behind me. “Would you do me a favor?” Lou nodded. “Would you find Blueboy and make sure he gets back in his stall and gets something to eat?”

Lou nodded as she stood. “I promise, Mark.”

As she walked out, Doctor Burrage and Pa came back in. Doc Burrage sat in the chair and pulled the covers back from my legs. “Any change?” I shook my head. Then I looked up at Pa. Doc Burrage got the needle and I watched as he poked it in my leg, but I felt nothing. Doc Burrage turned and looked at Pa. Then they stood up and left the room.

I waited. For a long time, I waited. Finally, Pa walked back in and sat down in the chair beside my bed. By this time it was dark so Pa lit the lantern and turned the light all the way up. In the shadow of the light, I saw his face. It was very concerned. “Son, I…” Pa rubbed his hands together as he studied them. “I’m afraid I…I have some bad news.”

I turned toward the wall. “I’m crippled,” I answered.

Pa sighed. “I’ll not hear you using that word. Right now, it appears you’ll just be laid up for a while.”

“Lou said you’d wait until morning to come to any conclusions?” I asked as fear crept into my voice.

“We’re not making any conclusions, not yet. But I think its best you know what’s going on. Fear won’t help anyone.” Pa sighed. “Doc Burrage said he’ll be back in the morning and check your legs again.”

There was silence. That allowed Pa’s words to sink in to me. “Cripple…” I mumbled. Then I closed my eyes. “Crippled…” I said with more emotion this time. Suddenly, I threw my hands to my face and began weeping. “Face it Pa! I’m Crippled!” I cried. I cried this word over and over.

“Son, it’s not permanent. It’s only temporary!” Pa declared as he tried to pull my hands away.

But I turned away from him. “Who said?” I cried out as I stared at the wall. “Who said it wasn’t permanent?” I turned and stared at Pa. “Did the doctor say that?” Pa didn’t answer. “Well, did he?!”

“No.” Pa again looked down at his hands. “The truth is, son…there’s not much known about this stuff. We just…we don’t know…”

Pa stood up and walked to the window. I closed my eyes and more tears fell down my face. “I don’t understand, Pa. I…I’ve fallen off my horse lots of times! I’ve hit my head before and…”

“I know!” Pa hit his hand on the wall. “I thought you were safe with Blueboy. I thought…”

My head popped toward him at those words. “It’s not Blueboy’s fault!” I yelled.

“A father tries to keep his son safe no matter what. Never did I think your horse would…throw you like that!” Pa declared.

“My horse didn’t throw me, Pa! My cinch broke – can’t you understand that?” I cried out. “It was the cinch – not the horse!” But it was as if Pa wasn’t even listening to me. “Pa, do you hear me?” I yelled. With my arms I pushed myself to sit up straighter, to make Pa understand, I suddenly reared forward too fast. I fell out of bed and landed with a thud on the floor. Pa turned and hurried toward me. He bent over to help me. “Don’t touch me!” I cried. “Just…don’t…” I sunk to the floor as sobs wracked my body.

As I cried, I felt gentle hands on my back. Then I felt Pa lift me into a sitting position as he sat down next to me. He wrapped his arms around me once again and cried. “Oh God help us!” Pa prayed through his tears. “Oh God, help us!”

Finally, Pa picked me up and laid me back in bed. He smoothed my hair back with his hand and looked into my eyes. “You sleep, now son. Just sleep. We’ll know more in the morning.” Pa blew out the light, but he sat there in the darkness. I felt my eyes closing as Pa whispered a continuous prayer. I fell asleep listening to his prayer.

***

“Mark? Mark?” I heard Pa’s voice as he bent over me the next morning. “Wake up.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Pa!” I declared as I opened my eyes. “I’ll get dressed and get to my chores right-“ But as I started to sit up, I realized I couldn’t . “Oh…”

“Doc Burrage is here, son. He wants to look at your legs.” Pa stood behind Doc Burrage as he once again poked my legs with the needle. I felt nothing. He poked so hard once that blood seeped out from a small hole, but I still felt nothing. Doc Burrage turned and looked at Pa.

“Doc?” Doc Burrage turned and looked at me. “How bad is it?” Doc Burrage turned to look at Pa again. He shook his head. “I need to talk to your father now, Mark. He’ll come talk to you in a little while.”

“You can talk in here!” I insisted.

“No, I want you to eat your breakfast in peace!” Lou declared. Pa helped me sit up as she put the tray over me. “That’s fresh eggs just gathered this morning. So you eat those!” Lou gave me a sympathetic look as she hurried out of the room.

Again, I was alone to wonder.

But today I ate. As I sat there, I listened to the continued murmurings outside the room. I was getting angry! Why couldn’t they talk in front of me? These were my legs, weren’t they? This was my problem? I suddenly wiped my arm across my lap, sending the tray and dishes crashing to the floor.

The door opened as Lou walked in. She hurried to the closet and got some clothes for me. “What are you doing?” I asked, not hiding the anger from my voice.

“Lou, give us a minute alone first,” Pa said quietly. Lou turned and looked at Pa. Then she looked at me. She nodded as she hurried out of the room.

Pa closed the door. Then he slowly made his way over to my bed. Instead of sitting down in the chair, he sat down on the side of my bed. He looked down at the dishes in the floor. “Have an accident?”

“It was no accident!” I shouted. Pa stared at me, surprised at the sound of anger in my voice. “There’s no change.”

Pa lowered his eyes and shook his head. “No. There isn’t.”

“What did Dr. Burrage say?” I asked.

“Well…” Pa rubbed his hands together as he organized his thoughts. “Um…he says you hit a nerve in your back when you fell. Until it calms down…”

“Sometimes it never calms down,” I said softly. “I remember hearing about Charlie, the horse breaker down near Santa Fe. He still can’t walk after that horse threw him.” Pa nodded. “Remember what the doctor told him?” Pa didn’t answer. I swallowed. “He said he just upset a nerve. That was three years ago, Pa.”

“Son, I-“ Pa started.

“I’m going to be a cripple for the rest of my life!” I suddenly cried. “I know I am!”

“You don’t know that, Mark! You could get your feeling back tomorrow or next week or…”

“…or never,” I finished for him.

“And that kind of talk isn’t going to help you, boy!” Pa said sternly as he looked up at me. “Now’s not the time to be feeling sorry for yourself! Now’s the time to be doing something about it! A McCain doesn’t give up!”

“Yeah?” I snapped back. “How many McCain’s do you know that found themselves like this?” I threw back the covers. “Look at me, Pa!” I tried to lift one of my legs with my hands. “Look! Just look at your son!”

I looked up at Pa. I watched his face turn to anger…then hurt…then something else. He finally sighed and took both my hands in his. “I AM looking at my son. He has a heart of gold. He is very smart and can do ANYTHING he sets his mind to. You have overcome so many things in the past – you’ve had so many near-death experiences, son. You WILL overcome this.”

Pa let go of my hands and stood up. “Now, you have exactly five minutes to feel sorry for yourself. After that, Lou will come in and help you get dressed. She’ll put some extra layers on you. Since you can’t move, you’ll be colder than usual. After that, we’re going to Mission Springs.”

“Mission Springs?” I asked. “Why?”

“They have some hot springs up there that are supposed to help your legs. These hot springs have healed many and-“

“I don’t want to go!” I cried.

Pa folded his arms. He narrowed his eyes. “YOU don’t have a choice, Mark. We’re going!”

I heard the anger and hurt in his voice. I watched as Pa walked toward the door. “Pa?” Pa stopped with his hand on the door knob, but didn’t turn around. “Why is this happening to me?”

Pa turned his head around and looked at me. Then he turned back toward the door. “I don’t know, Mark.” Then he walked out.

I knew Pa expected me to keep faith about my current predicament Lou came in and helped me get dressed. She bundled me up really warm. “There, that will keep you nice and warm on the trip.”

“Why’s Pa doing this, Lou?” I asked.

Lou paused in buttoning my coat and looked into my eyes. “Because he loves you, Mark.”

“He’s sending me off to Mission Springs because he loves me?” I asked.

“He’s not sending you off, WE are all going down there. The doctor said it could help your legs.” Lou finished buttoning my coat. “He’d do anything for you. He’d swim across the ocean if you thought it would make you better. Don’t you know that?”

I nodded. “I know…I just don’t want to cause any more trouble or be a…a burden.”

“You’re not! You are his life, Mark! You’re what keeps him going everyday! He’d do anything for you.”

“You really think that…water…is going to help my legs?” I asked then.

“It’s not water, son.” Pa walked in then and bent down in front of me. “These are special waters with all kinds of natural minerals in them. They are hot waters that runs natural.”

“If they’re so great, why are there so many people in the world who are sick and can’t walk?” I mumbled.

Pa stood and lifted me into his arms. “Well…maybe you should start with a little faith.”

“My father used to say that if you believe…you receive…” Lou declared as she followed us out of the house and firmly closed the door. “He always told me that those who have faith receive so much more.”

“And he’s right, Mark,” Pa declared as he lowered me into the wagon. He helped me scoot all the way back. Then he began covering me with blankets. “We’ll have to keep you warm, Mark. It’ll be rough going for a time…I’ll stop if I need to.”

Lou could tell I was still really upset and doubtful. As Pa pulled the wagon from the yard, she reminded me of the song we’d sung in church yesterday. Then she began singing it as we rode down the road.

“Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.”

***

We traveled all day. When we first started out, we listened to Lou’s beautiful voice as she sang the hymn. After she finished, I heard Pa’s soft voice. “Lord, help my son. Please help my son.” I heard Lou echo the words and say a soft “Amen.” I said nothing. If medicine couldn’t restore my legs, how could God?

Pa stopped after we had traveled in silence for about an hour. I was shivering. I just couldn’t help myself. It was getting colder. Pa jumped from the wagon and uncovered my legs. He looked up at Lou. “Can you sit back here and rub them for awhile?” Lou nodded.

“No need to fuss over me!” I argued. But Lou simply went to work while Pa traveled.

I listened as she sang softly to me. Not only did she sing the hymn over and over, but she sang several Irish hymns of faith that she knew from her homeland. I almost fell asleep as she sang. “Lou, keep him awake,” Pa said gruffly at one point. My eyes popped open. Pa sighed. “I’m sorry, son, but when a body’s as cold as yours, it’s best you stay awake.

We stopped for lunch. Pa started a fire and carried me over to it. He rubbed my legs in between eating bites of his sandwich. “I wish you wouldn’t fuss so!” I griped. “I wish we didn’t come!” Pa said nothing but kept rubbing. “I just don’t see how water’s going to help my legs! I’m a cripple, Pa! I’m a cripple!” I cried.

Pa stopped and looked up at me. “I’m not taking you home until you walk, son. If you can’t have faith in yourself, then I just have to have enough for both of us!”

After lunch, Pa again carried me and sat me in the back of the wagon. “This part’s going to be rough. Lou, I think it’s best you ride up with me and hang on. Mark, you get a good grip back there. I want to make this rough part as quickly as possible. I’m sorry.”

I didn’t understand myself why I was feeling so faithless. Why couldn’t I share the same hope Pa and Lou shared? I just felt so hopeless at the moment – so useless! “You should be back ranching – not driving to some…mineral spring! You’re a rancher – not a doctor!”

“I’m your father,” Pa said in a husky voice. “Nothing else matters beyond that.”

I stayed quiet just thinking. I didn’t have to worry about falling asleep that afternoon. It was too rough! When we got to the top of the hill, Pa stopped to check on me. I assured him I was okay. He was putting too much time in worrying about me. Pa promised me the roughest part of the trip was over. “We oughta be there by tomorrow.”

“Alright,” I answered as Pa turned and moved on.

He traveled for a long time that day. I finally heard Lou speak out of the quiet darkness. “Lucas, we must stop! Mark can’t take much more!”

“I’m alright!” I declared. “Don’t stop on my account!”

But I was ignored as the wagon slowed. “Lucas, Mark is really tired. We must stop!”

“I said-“ I started.

“Hush, Mark!” Pa snapped. I felt the wagon stop. Pa jumped down and came to me. “Mark, I don’t mean to snap at you, but I don’t like seeing you like this. Where’s your faith at, son? Where is it?”

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “I just don’t know.” Pa started to lift me out, but I stopped him. “Pa, I’m never gonna walk again! I know I’m not!”

“I know you are!” Pa said. He lifted me out and carried me over to the ground. He gently sat me against a tree and went to start the fire. I sat there alone and watched Lou and Pa work diligently on the evening chores together.

I allowed a sigh to escape me as I thought on things. I didn’t know where my faith was. I didn’t know why they were working so hard on something that seemed so impossible.

After we ate, Pa prepared my bed. Then he helped me under the blanket, keeping me as close to the fire as he could. As we laid there, we looked up at the stars. Pa turned and looked at me. “Son, you remember when you started school – way back when you were six years old?”

“Seems…like a lifetime ago,” I mumbled.

“I know…” Pa sighed. “But do you remember how much you struggled with school when you first started?”

“I remember hating it. I was angry that you and Ma made me go.”

“Yes. I had to tan your britches to get you to straighten up about that if you remember.” Pa chuckled a bit, then sobered when he realized I wasn’t in the mood for laughing. “But I remember how hard it was for you to learn to read. Your mother had worked hard teaching you the alphabet before you ever went to school. But you struggled as you tried to learn to read…your mother – she never gave up on you. Neither did I. Every night, you and your Ma sat at that table working together on your letters and your reader. And every night, I sat with you by your bedside and showed you the words as I read.”

“Oh, I remember that picture book! We still have it at home!”

“Mm Hm…” Pa smiled. “Someday I hope to read that to my grandchildren…”

“What grandchildren?” I mumbled. “Who will want to marry half a man?”

Pa sat up. “A man is measured by his legs, Mark? Is a man measured by his hands? Or is a man measured by what’s in his heart? If I’m to have a daughter-in-law, I want one who measures your heart and mind – not how good your legs or arms work. And with the attitude you have now, no son – you will never get married!” I turned and stared at Pa. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t feeling sorry for me – not in the least!

Pa laid back down. “I still remember the day you finally learned to read. I came to pick you up from school that day and you came bounding out that door two steps at a time. Your feet hardly touched the ground, you ran so fast. You jumped in my arms and said, “Pa, I cen read! I cen read!” Then you opened the book right there and pointed to the words on the page and read them.” Pa turned his head over to look at me again. “You struggled for a long time doing that, son. But you never gave up. You didn’t give up because neither your mother nor I would let you. Well son, I’m not going to let you give up now.”

There was silence. I had nothing to say. “I still think it was a stupid idea to come here.”

“What did you want me to do? Let you lay in that bed and do nothing?”

“What else can I do?” I asked.

Pa’s sigh was the only sound. Finally, he spoke very quietly. “Goodnight, Mark.”

The next day, I sat there under the tree and watched Pa and Lou work at the morning chores. Lou brought me some breakfast and greeted me warmly. “How are you feeling?”

I looked up at her. “How do you THINK I feel?”

“Mark!” Pa scolded. I heard a loud thump as he stood and walked over to me. “I won’t have you talking to Lou that way, boy. You show respect! Respect for me…respect for Lou and…respect for yourself!”

I turned my head away in shame. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to say, ‘I’m sorry’.

“Hurry with your breakfast so we can get started, son.” I watched as Pa and Lou went back their breakfast.

“I guess I won’t have to worry about doing dishes,” I grumbled to myself.

It seemed that the longer we went, the more disgusted with everything I got. I didn’t understand why I was acting out like this. I wanted to believe I’d get better, but the truth was that I didn’t believe that.

Lou again moved to the back of the wagon to massage my legs. “There,” she said as she gave them one last rub.

“What good is it?” I asked. “They’re dead. I’m never going to use them again!”

Lou sighed. “Mark, why are you blaming God?”

“I’m not!” I assured her.

“Have you asked Him for help? You know, your father is doing his part, but you aren’t doing yours.”

“What can I do?” I asked. “I’m crippled! I can’t move my legs – I can’t walk – I can’t run…All I can do is sit.”

“Okay, Mark.” Lou took off her gloves and blew warmth into her hands. “Alright. Let’s suppose that you are a cripple, because you’re right – that is a possibility.”

I gasped and stared at her. She raised her eyebrows at me. “What? Well, that’s what you’ve been wanting us to say, right?”

“Well, no…I-“

“That’s what you’ve been telling us ever since your accident…that you are a cripple so we might as well just give up!”

Well, I-“

Again, she cut me off. “So…if you can never use your legs again, what are you going to do the rest of your life? Are you going to just sit around the ranch house and make your father do all the work on the ranch, take care of you…have that burden on his shoulders for the rest of his life?”

“Lou!” Pa suddenly shouted.

“No, Lucas. It’s time he faced the facts of life!” Lou turned back to me. “It would be nice to live in the world you’ve colored for yourself – nothing bad ever happens…we have these perfect lives with perfect answers and no trials…” Lou pulled the gloves back on her hands and started rubbing my legs again. “The Bible tells us we will have trials. It’s there – my father used to read it to me all the time when I was a little girl. You want me to show you?”

“No.”

“You see, Mark…Trials and suffering, they are promised to us along with the rainbows and sunny spring mornings. God gave us roses – but he also gave us thorns. He gave us rain – but he also gave us storms. God gave us life – but he also gave us death. Your father…he has a burden to bear. He lost his wife when you were only six years old, and all this time he’s had to care for you and love you and punish you…You think that’s been easy for him? Well, do you?”

“No.”

“Don’t you think he feels paralyzed at times? Yet, he has faith doesn’t he? If he didn’t, you wouldn’t be where you are today.” Lou put my socks back on. “Now, I don’t want to hear another word of feeling sorry for yourself…I don’t care what you feel inside, but your father has a burden on him – to care for you…and he’ll do that any way he knows how. When we get to those springs, you’ll allow him to care for you the way he’s always done. And you’ll thank him for it.”

“Yes ma’am.” She turned away from me then, leaving me alone to sort through my own thoughts. I did. I thought on it a lot. I started thinking on who I was angry at. “It’s not God, Miss Lou,” I finally stated.

Lou turned around and looked at me. “It’s me and Pa and you and…”

“It’s God, Mark. That’s why you haven’t prayed. It’s God.”

I wasn’t ready to admit that yet though. There was nothing asking God to give me my legs back would do. He’s the one that allowed my legs to get in this shape in the first place. And if Pa had only allowed me to go fishing that day…

The wagon stopped. “Here we are.” I turned and saw a cross shining high in the sky. “Mission Springs.”

Pa jumped down from the wagon and helped Lou over the wheel. “We’ll be able to set up camp here.”

I looked around from where I was sitting. I wasn’t too impressed with what I saw. “So…this is where my…healing should take place? I don’t see anything special about it.”

Pa looked at Lou. Lou gave me a sour look. “Mark McCain!” She suddenly warned.

Pa cleared his throat. “Well, let’s show you what’s so special about this place, son.”

Pa lifted me from the wagon and carried me. “I am a burden, Pa. I know I am.”

“No, son. No matter what happens, I’ll never see you as a burden. You are a blessing – not because God gave you two arms and two legs, but because of your heart…and because you’re my son. Also, because you carry a part of your mother in you. You will always be my blessing.” Pa carried me to the water and sat me down next to it as he began removing my socks and boots.

I turned and looked at the water. It was steaming up. Lou bent down and felt it. “It would be a nice warm bath for sure!” she said.

“I’m not interested in you having a nice warm bath, Lou. I’m interested in Mark’s walking!” Pa turned back to me and continued removing my socks.

“Pa!” I scolded him.

“I’m sorry.” Pa sighed. “I guess I’m just…worried.”

“Okay son,” Pa turned me around to the water. “Now, you tell me if it gets too hot.”

I rolled my eyes. “Pa, I can’t FEEL anything! Don’t you understand that???”

Pa’s eyes grew angry again. He roughly grabbed my legs and put them in the water. Then he stood up and started pacing the ground. “I want this little attitude of yours to change, boy!” Pa ordered as he pointed at me. “And I mean right now!”

Lou stepped forward then. “No, Lucas. We must face the fact that maybe he WILL stay this way for the rest of his life. If he does, it’s only because God has a plan for him – a very special plan. One he can do without his feet.”

I watched Pa glare at Lou. But then he nodded his head. “That’s right, son. There are plenty of things you can do without your feet. God has a plan for you.”

“A plan for me…” I mumbled. “What? To sit in a wheelchair my whole life?”

Pa suddenly bent down and got right in my face. “What? You think that since you cannot walk, your life is over? You really think that little of your creator? What about Charlie Spensor, Mark? Charlie hasn’t walked in three years, yet he’s made something great out of his life! He owns a horse ranch and is fairly well off because of it – do you get that just sitting in a wheelchair? And how about that girl we met in Texas a couple years ago…um…um…” Pa snapped his fingers as he tried to remember.

I sighed as I again rolled my eyes. “Charlotte.”

“Yeah. Thirteen years old, and she sings in that theater and teaches children how to read and write!”

“Why would God do this to me, Pa? He knows what I am! He knows who I am!”

“Maybe…” Pa swallowed as he calmed his voice down. “Maybe because He wants you to know who Mark McCain is.” Then he got up and walked away.

I turned and stared into the water. Both Lou and Pa loved me so much. They were doing everything they could to help me. Why wasn’t God? He said he loved me. He said He would always be there to help me. What were the words to the song?

What a friend we have in Jesus? All our sins and griefs to bear? Does a friend add to your pain by making you a cripple? Does a friend…No…He’s no longer there!

After they allowed me a little while to sulk and think on Pa’s words, Lou and Pa came over and started rubbing my feet as they soaked in the water. After a while, Pa lifted my feet from the water and laid them on a blanket. He told me to move my toes. How could I move something I wasn’t even sure were there anymore? I couldn’t! I just couldn’t!

I could tell my not being able to move my legs were upsetting my father. Why was God allowing my father to suffer like this? Pa read his Bible every day! He talked to God every day! God had taken my legs, yet Pa still had faith that it could work.

I watched as he rubbed my legs with so much hope and faith. I watched as he laid my feet back into the water. He spent hours that day and the next rubbing and rubbing – soaking and soaking…over and over and over…I knew his hands had to be raw. I knew Lou’s hands had to be raw, yet they continued working diligently – they never gave up!

But I still couldn’t believe this was doing any good. I still couldn’t believe that this trip wasn’t wasted. If God wanted me to walk, He wouldn’t have taken away my legs in the first place! That day, I sat by the hot springs soaking my feet. I turned and saw Pa kneeled in front of the cross. He was on his hands and knees in prayer. I stared at him as I watched him plead with God to restore my legs.

I watched as Pa turned and wiped his eyes as he walked back to the springs. He spread out the blanket then reached out for my legs. “You were praying again?” I asked.

Pa paused as he looked at me. “Of course, son. That’s all I can do…Pray!”

“You think he’s listening? Do you really think that?” I spat out.

“Yes, Mark. I do.” Pa lifted my legs out of the water and felt them. “Can you wiggle your toes, son?” He stared as he looked at my toes. “Well, can you?”

I stared at Pa. His face was full of hope and faith. “Pa…Can’t you see? Don’t you get it? I don’t have any toes! I don’t have any feet! I don’t have any legs! They are gone! They are gone!”

Pa rubbed them. “They are still here, Mark. A little bit of faith would help!”

I laughed bitterly. “So, what are you gonna do, Pa? You gonna just keep trying and trying? How long are you going to try until you realize that…”

“That’s enough for today,” Pa interrupted me as he lifted me up. He carried me to the tree and told Lou to put my boots and socks back on. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”

“And what if nothing happens tomorrow?” I asked.

“Then we’ll try the next day,” Pa simply stated.

“And you’ll continue pleading with God?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And what if that doesn’t work?”

“Then I’ll keep praying. And we’ll try again the next day, and the next day, and the next day!” Pa shouted as He lowered his face to mine. “Until something does happen or…” Pa grabbed the ax and turned to me. “Or…until you find your faith!”

I watched him walk away. Lou quietly put my boots and socks back on. Then softly, she said, “The least you can do is meet your father half-way. He’s doing all he can. You have to do your part.”

“And what IS my part, LOU?” I questioned her. “Just what do you WANT me to do?”

Lou looked toward the cross. “I think you know.”

I watched as Lou gathered some wood and started the fire. I listened as Pa chopped the wood. It was getting colder out here. I hadn’t missed the worry on Pa’s and Lou’s face earlier as they discussed the dropping temperature and the fear of an approaching storm. Nor did I miss Pa looking toward the West as he looked for storm clouds that could kill us all.

As I sat under the tree, I saw Pa hurry over and grab his rifle. I strained to listen as Lou and Pa discussed something. I could tell by their strained voices that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. Suddenly, Lou hurried at gathering things up. Pa came over to the tree and picked me up. “We leaving?” I asked.

“No son,” Pa answered in a worried voice. “But there are some escaped prisoners with a prison guard they are holding hostage. They’re coming this way. I’ve got to get us out of sight until they pass.”

“How long will they be here?” I worried.

“Don’t worry, son. I’ll take care of you. I promise.” Pa hurried to the wagon.

“Hurry, Lucas!” Lou begged.

I felt the wagon as it started moving. Pa drove it a ways then stopped. He turned and looked at me. “Take care of my son,” he said before hurrying away.

“Lou?” I chattered. I was freezing! Lou hurried over to me. “Where’s he going? Is Pa gonna get himself into trouble?”

Lou turned in the direction Pa had walked off in. “No Mark. You’re Pa’s protecting us. That’s what his job is – to protect us.” Lou climbed up onto the wagon and started rubbing my legs and feet. “Oh, you are almost frozen to death, Mark!” She fiercely rubbed my legs.

“I need a fire, Lou,” I mumbled. It was getting so cold…so very cold! Lou put another blanket on me and rubbed my legs some more. “You have to stay warn, Mark!” She snuggled me in tighter. “Feel better?” I barely heard her question, but I think I mumbled that I was.

I was getting so cold here. My eyes started feeling heavy. I began falling asleep. There I saw I nice valley – a valley I could ride Blue Boy in. I was riding Blue Boy! I was riding him toward something that brought me peace and warmth. As I got closer, I realized it wasn’t someone or just something – it was all I’d learned my whole life. And in the middle of it was God. I suddenly felt myself falling…falling…

But this time, God’s arms were stretched out in front of me. He smiled as he caught me. I felt so alive all of a sudden. “I told you I was your friend, Mark. All you have to do is believe…believe…believe…

Suddenly, I felt a slap. Pa’s voice was there. He was telling me to believe…to have faith. “I’ll try,” I answered. “I’ll try.”

But I wanted to go back to God. I wanted to be close to him. “Mark, can you have faith? No matter what I decide, have faith? I miss talking to you, Mark. Have faith…have faith…”

“I will,” I answered. God started feeding it to me. He was feeding me faith and I ate it as if it was the most tasty food in the whole world. I suddenly remembered all those times faith had saved me and Pa. I remembered giving Pa Faith and Pa giving me faith. “Faith can move mountains.” I heard that now too. “Only believe…”

But I was so tired and cold suddenly. As I ate the faith God was feeding me, I started feeling warmer. Suddenly, I could open my eyes. Lou was there. It wasn’t faith I was eating, but beans.

“How’s Pa?” I suddenly asked.

“Oh, he’s-“ Suddenly, we were gunshots.

“Pa! Pa!” I tried to shout, but Lou put a hand to my mouth before he could come all the way out.

“Mark, don’t talk! Just…just stay quiet,” Lou whispered.

The warmth was leaving my body again. I felt myself drifting…drifting…drifting…There was Pa. He was talking to God. He was with God talking to him…about me! Pa had unwavering faith. No matter what happened, he never stopped believing in God. “The faith of your father, Mark. You need the faith of your father…”

I felt myself moving. I moved slowly at first, then faster and faster. I was moving away from God – further and further away. I stretched out my arm. “Come back! Come back!” But he kept moving further and further away. “Come back! Come…”

“Mark!” I felt somebody slapping my cheeks. I felt warmth as it crept all over my body. I opened my eyes to find Pa holding me in his lap as Lou rubbed my legs fiercely. “Oh, thank God, son! Thank God you’re still with us.”

“Pa?” I looked up at him and touched his face. “Is it better now?”

“What?” Pa asked.

“My faith. Is my faith better? God said it was. He fed it to me. It made me warm.”

Pa smiled. “I hope so, son.” Then I fell asleep in my father’s arms.

The next morning, I was ready to tackle the water with a new attitude. Twice Pa pulled my legs out and checked them, and twice he put them back in with no new results.

I felt my faith waver. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was just a stupid dream after all. Lou sat down and talked to me. I knew she was trying to cheer me up – to make me believe in faith again.

But I wasn’t sure about it. I suddenly felt the bitterness seek in. I’d tried it Pa’s way and it didn’t work. “Pa, I want to go home!” I declared suddenly.

“No,” Pa answered firmly.

“I want to go home now!” I yelled.

“NO!” Pa yelled back. “You aren’t going anywhere! You need your faith, Mark. We’re not leaving here without it!”

Lou sat down next to me and started telling me about climbing a tree. That made it worse as I thought on all the times I’d climbed trees. I fell out of a tree when I was five – lost my two front teeth. Boy was Ma ever upset with me! Pa’s yelled at me a time or two for climbing trees too. “Well, I don’t have to worry about…climbing anymore trees!” I told Lou bitterly.

“Oh Mark, don’t talk that way!” Lou begged. But she was tired of trying to reform me. I was tired of fighting. How much longer would they keep this nonsense up?

Then Pa sat down and started in on me. He was telling me some nonsense about mission springs. “Pa,” I interrupted him suddenly. “It’s no good.” I turned to him. “I can’t walk!” The reality made me mad. I just wanted everyone else to face the facts too. “I CAN’T WALK!”

“Now you stop that, and you listen to me! You are gonna walk. It may take a long time, but you are gonna walk, son. Now I know you’re frightened, but we’re gonna see this through – all three of us. You just gotta have a little faith. No matter how much I bathe you in this springs or I rub your legs with my hands, it’s gonna be up to you in the long run. You gotta believe that and you gotta try…”

Pa kept talking. It was then that I realized something. Pa didn’t only have faith in God and his power to heal, but he also had faith in me. My father had faith in ME! He believed I had the power deep in myself to find the faith in God I needed to restore my legs. He REALLY believed. He wasn’t going to give up – not on me…nor on God…no matter what! He was willing to wait a lifetime if he had to – not necessarily to see me walk, but to see my faith restored so I could live again…

Suddenly, I felt something – a distant memory of what it felt like to have toes. I stared down at my feet. I could feel Pa’s hands…”Pa…Pa, I think I can move my toes but my legs…they feel funny! They hurt, Pa!”

Pa stared at me. “You’re legs hurt?” He stood and stretched out his hand to me. “Stand up, son.” I stared at him. Here’s where my faith would be tested. Did I believe enough in myself to really truly believe it could work? Pa grabbed my hand. “Mark, stand up!” he yelled. He pulled on my arm, forcing me to stand.

I felt my feet as I stood on them, but standing was painful! I could FEEL my legs though! I could feel them all – it was like…I suddenly had a part of me back…

I stood to my feet and grabbed onto my father. I saw pride in his eyes. Was that the same look he had given me the first day I stood up as a child? Had that been his look of pride?

Pa suddenly let go of me and walked away. I reached out to him, needing his strength. “Come on, son. Come on.”

I took a step forward. Pa’s eyes held so much hope. I couldn’t let him go. “Help me God!” I prayed silently. “Help me please my father.” I took another step forward. Then one more.

Then I fell into Pa’s arms. He hugged me and Lou to him. When we parted, I saw tears of joy on his cheeks. I smiled as I again planted my feet firmly under me and tried to stand up straight. I looked into his eyes and saw so much pride there. “Is this how you felt when I took my first step?” I whispered to him.

Pa laid his cheek against mine as he whispered in my ear where only I could hear. “No Mark, this is so much better! It’s so much better!” He raised his head as he looked into my eyes. “Because today, son…today you took a big step of faith.”

***

We stayed in Mission Springs for two more days. Pa wanted to bathe my legs to help restore them. But we both knew what he was really restoring was my faith. The first night, I asked pa to pray with me before we went to bed. The next night, I asked Pa to read the Bible to me. The night before we traveled home, I read to Pa and Lou. I read from James – and I read about having trials and faith. Pa and Lou did a lot of smiling at each other as I read the words. Their bond had strengthened as my faith strengthened.

I still remember the day we rode into North Fork. I saw the town in the distance. “Pa, let me off to walk!” I begged.

Pa turned and looked at Lou Lou nodded her head. “Alright, son. But no running!”

I nodded my agreement and got off. Then I walked down the Main Street of North Fork. It was Sunday Morning. In the distance, I heard the church bells ringing announcing that church was about to start. I don’t think any of us had realized it was Sunday.

Micah was the first to see us. He hurried up to me and hugged me. I was a little surprised, but pleased. “The springs worked!” Micah declared.

Pa shook Micah’s hand. Micah tipped his hat to Lou. We were all glad to be back together. We started toward the church. Everyone turned when they saw us. They rushed out to us. Reverend Jacobson and his son ran over to us as well. “Lucas! Mark! You are back in time!”

Doctor Burrage greeted us. “The Springs worked,” he said happily.

Pa nodded. “We soaked his feet in them over and over and over.”

“Wait a minute…” Doc Burrage held up his hand as he looked around at the crowd that had gathered on the street. Pa and I were in the middle as everyone gathered around us. “You soaked his feet? Not his back?” Pa nodded. “Didn’t I tell you the muscle spasm was in his back?”

“Yes,” Pa nodded. “But it was his legs that were damaged. So we soaked his-“

Again, Doc Burrage held up a hand. “No, Lucas. The nerve was in his back. Mark needed to be sitting down in the hot springs for it to work on that nerve.”

We all stared at each other. This time, it was my turn to speak. “What are you saying doc?”

“What I’m saying, Mark, is that soaking your legs in that mineral springs had no medical solution whatsoever.”

“Then how…” I gasped. “Are you saying…”

Pa slapped me on the back. “It was your faith all along, Mark. Once we restored your faith, God saw fit to give you your legs back.”

“Hallelujah!” Someone in the crowd declared.

“Praise the Lord!” Another said. “Praise be the Lord!” Another cried.

“Let’s go into the church and celebrate!” Reverend Jacobson declared as he put one arm around me and one around his own son. “We’ll sing praises.”

“What a friend we have in Jesus!” I declared.

As we walked into the church, the crowd began singing the familiar chorus for it. They had no idea just how much that song meant to me now!

****

The day had been long. After an extended church service, we had a big dinner of celebration in the hotel. Pa could tell I was tired and wanted to get me home. He assured Mr. Griswald I would be back at school in another week. Doc Burrage gave me permission to go back tomorrow, but you know my Pa! He wanted to make double sure I was all better – and he expected one more week of spoiling would just about get it right.

That evening, I walked out to the corral where Blue Boy was. I hugged his neck. “I sure did miss you, boy! I know it wasn’t your fault.”

I felt Pa walk up beside me. He leaned against the fence and gave Blue Boy a stiff pat. “You still blame him?”

Pa sighed. “Not exactly. I think I was just really scared. I hated the fear I couldn’t hide from you. I needed someone to strike out at and Blue Boy was the target.” Pa patted Blue Boy again. “I’m sorry, boy!”

Blue Boy neighed in response. I laughed. Then I turned to Pa. “I want to thank you, Pa. You are my rock. You were there. You believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”

Pa nodded. “It was my pleasure.” He put a hand on my shoulder and patted it. “You’re a lot stronger then you think. You’re a McCain, after all.”

I turned back and looked inside the fence. “Have you ever lost your faith, Pa?”

“No, Mark. I don’t think any of us who believe ever really loose our faith. We just…misplace it once in awhile. Sometimes we have to depend on other people’s faiths to help us find ours again. I have misplaced mine before. Your mother helped me find it a long time ago. Then I lost it again and a good friend in Claypool helped me find it. There’s even been a few times that you and Micah helped me.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.” I patted Blue Boy again. “Does that mean I’ll misplace mine again?”

“I hope not,” Pa said. “But if you do, son…I’ll be here to help you. You know that.”

“I sure do! You are my strength, Pa. You are the reason…”

“No, son. God is the reason. I just helped him along.” Pa put an arm around me and led me back toward the house. “You want to know what I was praying for under that cross?”

“I figured you were asking God to restore my legs.”

“No, son. Because I wanted your legs restored, but that wasn’t necessarily what God wanted. I asked him to restore your faith…and to help you understand that…there’s more to life then your legs.”

I smiled. “I know that now, Pa.”

“Good.” Pa nodded. “Now, I want you to go to bed. You still need to rest those legs. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Night, Pa.” I started into the house, but suddenly turned and came back to him. I surprised him by planting a kiss on his cheek and giving him a hug. “You’re the best!” Then I hurried into the house.

*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

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