"What Faith Can Do" by:
Ridley C. James
Author's Note: This
popped into my head today when I was thinking about a friend. It was
inspired by the beautiful song ‘What Faith Can Do’ by Kutless and I
can’t take credit for their amazing lines you’ll find spread within.
Consider it my Halloween contribution ! It’s a little sappy but scary
in its own right. I hope you enjoy it. The final chapter of Still
Unbroken is coming up soon.
“Somewhere, someone may be looking for a reason to believe.”
“Good morning and welcome.” Pastor Jim Murphy waited for his congregation to settle, the playing children to be corralled and quieted by promises of gum and candy. He had been a preacher for over twenty years and could gauge his audience’s readiness.
When he was younger it was daunting. Jim found it hard to get past the butterflies, the expectant sea of faces each Sunday morning. He worried about channeling what his parishioners sought, a better understanding of the Lord’s grace, redemption, or perhaps something in between. It was a responsibility he took seriously, spending weekends in his study perusing scripture, scrutinizing verse. Emma used to tease he would have made an excellent CPA. Today the words came effortlessly, no notes required.
“Seeing how harvesting season is upon us, I planned on giving a stirring sermon this morning on reaping what you sow. But as most of you know, life has a way of interrupting us, and setting us out on a new path-not always one of our own choosing. I must admit, I had more important things to do with my time this week.” Jim closed his Bible, setting it aside on the podium. He swept his repentant gaze over the audience, his blue eyes coming to rest on Dean Winchester. “Alas, everybody falls sometimes.”
News traveled fast in a small town. A hushed wave of laughter and whisperings echoed through the pews. Jim chuckled when Dean gave a perfectly timed, devout, “Amen.”
Jim came to stand in front of the dais, waiting for the momentary excitement to die down. “So, this morning I’ve decided instead to answer a very important question posed to me. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind.”
The pastor folded his hands in front of him. “I’ve been asked similar things before. I haven’t always had the answers. I’m still not sure I do, but because the person who most recently asked me this is someone I love very much, I find it hard not to attempt the impossible this morning and try.”
Jim let his gaze go to the front pew, the miracle bench, as he would forever know it after today. Bobby Singer, Mackland Ames, Johnathan Winchester, Sam, Dean, and Caleb were all lined across it, six faces present and awake, if not rapt with attention. It wasn’t even Easter. Bobby had donned a tie for the occasion.
“It all started with an apple.”
Five Days Earlier…
“Drop it, Deuce, or so help me…”
“You’ll what?” Dean didn’t drop the apple, but launched it with all the force he might have used if playing first base hoping to throw out the runner headed for home plate. “Talk me to death?”
"Boys." Jim winced as the missile barely missed its target. It thwacked against the barn wall, splattering bits and pieces above Caleb’s head to land in his hair. It was that time of the year when Jim put up hay for the winter. Backbreaking work, even with the new baler, would have taken him much longer if his friends hadn’t pitched in. Over the years it had become a tradition for John and his boys, Mackland, Caleb and Bobby to show up to assist with the chore. Jim was beginning to wonder if it might not have been easier to hire a crew.
“You’re dead.” Caleb growled.
“Not with your aim.” Dean laughed from above them where he was stacking hay bales. He ducked behind the loft wall when Caleb returned fire.
Jim sighed as he watched Sam pop up from behind the front of the wagon. He nailed Caleb squarely between the shoulder blades while Caleb was focused on attacking Dean.
“Ow!” Caleb whirled, searching out Sam’s position. “That’s cheating, Brat.”
“That’s going to leave a mark.” Dean chuckled from above. “Score one for Sammy.”
Sam giggled and Caleb bulleted another apple in his direction.
Jim felt the breeze across his cheek. “Enough!”
He had endured the fighting most of the morning, regretting having told the boys the fallen apples from the big tree in the field were fair game. Watching each boy fill his pockets, Jim expected they would eat more than they should, ruining their appetite for the pie he had promised them later in the day. He did not imagine the fruit would become a weapon, although he should have after the pumpkin carving incident the night before. Boys would be boys, but Jim had suspicions Bobby might have fired the first shot of this particular war. The mechanic vehemently denied any such tomfoolery on his part.
“You three have enough bruises and battle wounds for the day. Let’s get back to the job at hand shall we?”
“Tell that to your pet,” Caleb tried to rub the spot Sam had hit high up on his back. “Deuce started this shit.”
“You’re just sore because you suck at it.” Dean swung out from one of the rafters parallel to the loft, his hands gripping the wood like a monkey bar, feet dangling in empty space. “Admit it. You’re getting too old to hang with us.”
“I can take anything you can throw my way, Deana.” Caleb took the opportunity to launch one of the few apples he had left at Dean. It hit the younger boy square in the stomach.
Dean grunted, hanging precariously by one hand as he covered his abs. “Sonofa…”
“Dean!” Jim’s heart nearly leapt from his chest as the boy swayed above them. “Get down from there this instant.” He turned his blazing gaze to Caleb who was grinning madly up at Dean. “You know better, young man!”
“What?” Caleb folded his gloved hands over his chest. “He’s been climbing up there since he was six. It would take a bazooka and some serious lead to bring Gorilla Boy down. Besides, he deserved it.”
“I think things will go faster if you take the top tier and Dean assists me in handing off the wagon.” Jim shook his head. He wondered if Caleb would eventually come out of his teenage phase when Dean finally emerged into adulthood. Sometimes he believed Caleb was dragging his feet, waiting for his friend to catch up. Jim hoped Dean did not consider doing the same for Sam. He wasn’t sure if he could survive three adolescents. Caleb grumbled something under his breath, but went into the stall where the loft stairs were.
“But, Jim it’s my turn to climb up,” Sam protested. He jumped down from the back of the wagon. “Dean got to drive the tractor today. He worked the loft yesterday. He gets to do everything.”
“That’s because I’m the pet.” Dean kicked his legs, swinging himself back and forth to gain momentum. Jim breathed a sigh of relief when he landed with a thump on the hay loft floor. “Did you not catch Damien’s petty recap about that? It was the same spiel he was sputtering this morning when Bobby let me work the baler.”
“You’re a Jerk,” Sam muttered. “No one has to remind me of that.”
“Less talking, more working.” Jim dropped his hand on Sam’s shoulder, giving a light squeeze. He turned the boy towards the wagon. “The sooner we are finished with this load, the sooner you can help me start lunch.”
“Oh boy,” Sam groaned. “I get to cut the crusts off sandwiches. Can’t wait.”
“Don’t fret, Samantha.” Dean leaned over the half wall of the loft, smirking at his little brother. “Kitchen duty is much more your sty…”
“Deuce! Watch out!”
Caleb’s warning and the loud crack echoed in the barn simultaneously. Jim looked up as the wood railing Dean was leaning over split in two. It snapped clean through, sending the teen tumbling head first.
Jim caught movement out of the corner of his eye as Caleb dashed to the edge of the loft, reaching for Dean. For a moment, Jim thought his grasp was true. Dean’s body seemed suspended in midair like a feather that had drifted down from one of the many nests in the rafters above. It was a cruel illusion. Dean was already ensnared by gravity’s clutches. He hit the dirt floor like a sack of grain, stirring a cloud of dust and bits of hay.
“Dean!” Sam’s desperate cry released the pastor from his paralyzed state. They rushed to the fallen teen. Jim didn’t have a chance to utter any warning as Caleb vaulted over the platform, scaling the slats comprising the side of the loft like a makeshift latter. He dropped the remaining feet, stumbling as he scrambled to get to them.
“God, Deuce. Are you okay?”
Jim noted that Dean had landed on his side. His eyes were open, but he had yet to make a move, or a sound.
“Is he breathing?” Sam reached for his brother, his panic overwhelming all precaution. “I don’t think he’s breathing.”
“Don’t move him, Sam!” Caleb dropped to his knees at Dean’s head, his hand hovering above the teen’s face. “Deuce?”
“He’s just had the wind knocked out of him.” Jim didn’t feel as confident as he tried to impart. He let his hand rest on the teen’s arm, holding him steady, praying the injuries would not be as grave as he feared. “Give him a moment.”
As if on cue Dean gasped, letting out a rumbling groan. He squeezed his eyes shut, his face grimacing.
“Samuel, go get Mackland, and your father.” John, Bobby and Mackland were still out in the field, using the tractor and second wagon Jim had borrowed to speed up the job.
Sam cast his brother another worried look, biting his lip. He quickly shoved to his feet, already yelling for John when he crossed through the double doors.
“Dean?” Jim leaned closer. Dean opened his eyes wide, an unfamiliar gleam of fear fleeting through the green gaze.
Caleb must have sensed it. He let his hand rest on the teen’s head. “Deuce, you with us? Say something.”
“Ow.” Dean drew out the syllable, but his voice was weak. “That’s going to leave a mark.”
“Tell me about it.” Caleb snorted, and Jim felt a wave of relief as Dean’s more typical humor prevailed.
Dean tried to shift, moving his upper body. Jim was relieved to see the teen’s neck was unlikely broken, but still held him steady. “Easy, my boy.”
“What’s with the fossilized barn, Jim?” Dean grumbled. “You said the apples were dangerous?”
Jim ignored the redirection. “Does anything feel broken, Son? Can you move your legs?”
“I’m sort of numb,” Dean said. “I’m okay.”
“Numb is not okay, Deuce. Withhold judgment until the shock wears off.”
Jim looked at Caleb and the two of them braced Dean between them, rolling him carefully onto his back. “We shall let Mackland be the judge of Gorilla Boy’s condition.”
Dean moved his gaze to Jim, blinking. “Humor is not a good color on you, Skin Horse.”
“We’re lucky he landed on his head.” Caleb was trying to keep his tone light, but Jim detected the edge. He was worried with good reason.
“Ah, yes. The Winchester steel never fails to impress.” Jim touched the large red whelp above Dean’s left brow. The purples and blues were already spreading. Jim was not comforted by the lack of blood or visible swelling. A quick goose egg would have been preferable.
“I told Dad it was good for something.” Dean brought his hand up. “I’m just glad I didn’t land on my face.”
Caleb caught his wrist, guiding Dean’s arm back so it ran parallel with his chest. “I don’t know. It might have been an improvement.”
Dean winced. “You’re jealous.”
Caleb tilted his head. “Now I know you’re definitely not thinking straight.”
“I just fell fifteen feet, Genius.” Dean closed his eyes. “Cut me a break.”
Caleb touched Dean’s cheek. “Keep your eyes open, smart ass.”
“Tell Damien to calm down, Jim.” Dean opened his gaze. “That rabbits bounce.”
“It’s okay,” Jim tried to assure Caleb, although his own stomach knotted. He hoped Dean was once more referencing the Velveteen Rabbit and not merely confused. “Mackland will be here soon.”
John was actually the first one through the door, his entrance reminiscent of Sam’s exit. “Dean!”
“Dad.” Dean tried to sit up, but Caleb and Jim kept him in place
“Easy. You know Johnny doesn’t have an inside voice.”
“What the hell happened?” Jim felt a pang of irritation as John’s presence loomed above them. Anger was the last thing they needed.
“Deuce took a little unexpected trip.” Caleb gestured with his chin to the loft. “From up there.”
“Goddamn it, boys.” John knelt beside Jim. The pastor’s exasperation with the man faded as he watched John lay a hand on his son’s head. “I told you the goofing off was going to get someone hurt.”
“Where’s Mac?” Caleb asked.
“I’m here.” Mackland entered with Sam, Scout and Atticus Finch on his heels. The doctor quickly crossed the room, taking the spot near Caleb. “How is he?”
“I’m conscious, Doc,” Dean said, softly. “Ready to get up off the damn floor.”
“Dean?” Sam bent over, hands braced on his knees. He hovered above his big brother, breathing hard. “You’re okay?”
“I’m okay, Sammy.”
Scout whined, getting a quick lick into Dean’s face before Sam grabbed her collar. “I thought you were dead.”
“His pulse is a little fast.” Mac had his fingers pressed to Dean’s throat. “Anything appear broken?”
“Just his face,” Caleb said. “But it’s always been that way.”
“Shut up, Damien. He’s talking to me.”
“Junior.” John growled, leveling a scowl at his protégé. He splayed his fingers on Dean’s shoulders. “Answer his question, Ace?”
“Nothing feels broken. My head and shoulder took the worst of it.” Dean looked up at Mac. “Can I get up now?”
Mac shook his head. “Let me give you a quick once over first. Keep your head still. Bobby’s getting my bag and your father’s old neck brace.”
“The bag.” Dean groaned. “Great.”
“Beware of the penlight,” Caleb said.
“Should we call for an ambulance?” Jim knew Mackland wouldn’t be satisfied with a simple exam. He wouldn’t be fooled by the boy's grasps at normalcy.
“Or will it be quicker if we take him?” John suggested.
“No,” Dean said. “No hospital.”
“Just a quick trip to the clinic, Dean.” Mac ignored the boy’s protests. He looked up at the loft, then down at Dean. His frown deepened. He ran skilled fingers over Dean’s skull, lifting each arm as he felt behind the teen’s neck. “I’m good, but an MRI is better. Where’s the pain originating?”
Dean clenched his jaw. “You mean besides from the pushy doctor?”
“Dean,” John censored.
“My head, behind my eyes.” Dean yelped when Mac’s hands pressed into right shoulder. “And there.”
“Is it sharp, or dull?” Mackland moved his hands along Dean’s torso, checking each leg.
“Give me a number.” Mac shined his penlight in each of Dean’s eyes.
Jim had not taken his hand from Dean’s since the exam began. He was surprised the boy allowed the contact, discomforted when Dean’s fingers tightened on his. “Nine,” Dean said.
“Do you feel dizzy or sick?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Dean confessed.
Mackland slowly moved Dean’s head back and forth. “Does this hurt your neck?”
Mackland glanced at Caleb. “Son, pull the SUV around.”
“It’s okay, Damien.” Dean sighed. “Mac’s just being Mac.”
“Right.” Caleb nearly bowled Bobby over in his haste to get out of the barn.
“Where the hell’s the fire, Junior?”
“We’re taking Dean to the hospital,” Sam answered for Caleb. “He’s hurt.”
Bobby gave the bag to Mac, frowning down at Dean. “Could this be some elaborate stunt you pulled to get out of a little work, Kid?”
“Better than pretending Dad ran the tractor over my foot,” Dean replied. “Unlike you who slacked on the couch the rest of the day, I’m trying to convince them I’m fine.”
“You fell fifteen feet,” Jim reminded, giving the teen’s hand one last squeeze before removing his touch. “Forgive us if we’re a little concerned.”
“You landed on your head,” Sam said. “You’re lucky it didn’t bust open like the pumpkins we dropped from the roof.”
“Let’s get him up,” Mac instructed John and Bobby. “Nice and slow.”
“I can do it myself…” Dean started, only to waver once they had him on his feet. He grasped at his head. “Or maybe not.”
“Dean?” Sam shouldered his way beside his brother.
“Go get my wallet and keys, Sammy,” John ordered. “Bring your brother’s coat and a blanket.”
“Yes, sir.” Sam didn’t hesitate this time. Atticus and Scout followed.
“Lock the dogs in the house, Samuel.” Jim called after him. He turned to Bobby, who was helping John support Dean’s weight. “Robert, I think it would be best if you drive,” Jim said. John shot him a look which the pastor ignored. “The sooner we get to town all in one piece, the better.”
The drive, which usually seemed relatively short, was harrowing. It didn’t help that Dean was sick twice, although Jim was unsure if it was truly the head wound or Bobby’s driving. Caleb and Sam also looked rather peaked when they emerged from the rear of Mackland’s vehicle. John might have been the better choice, a lesser of two evils.
Mackland had phoned ahead and a stretcher was waiting for them when they arrived. Bobby drove them around the emergency entrance, taking the vehicle onto designated parking. Dean wasn’t as adamant about his distaste for hospitals as Caleb, but he was still protesting admittance as he was rolled away from them. His distress was palpable, putting the other boys on edge. Neither Sam nor Caleb wanted to leave Dean's side.
Mackland led the way for the orderlies, barking instructions as if he were Chief of Staff instead of a concerned family member. John was claimed by a nurse needing medical and insurance information. Jim was left alone to pick up the rest of the pieces.
“Can you keep track of him?”
Sam’s quiet question reclaimed Jim’s attention. The youngest Winchester and Caleb were hovering by the silver bay doors Dean had just disappeared through.
“I can still sense him,” Caleb answered. Jim didn’t bother to reprimand the young psychic, knowing it would only incur an argument.
“But is he okay?” Sam brought his hand to his mouth, chewing on the corner of his thumb. “He was really sick.”
“I don’t know, Sammy.” Caleb continued to stare at the doors. “I don’t want to push.”
“Head wounds are bad news. Mac was worried.” Sam hugged his arms across his chest. “Dad, too. I could tell.”
“Boys.” Jim cleared his throat. He gestured to a row of chairs. “Why don’t we have a seat?”
Sam looked at him, his dark eyes full of fear. “What do you think, Jim?”
Jim put an arm around the twelve year old, guiding him to the bright yellow chairs. “I think we’ll be much more comfortable waiting over here.”
Sam took the seat closest to the pastor, bouncing his foot as he glanced up at the clock. “What if he has a skull fracture? Or what’s that called…a hematoma? Boxers and car crash victims get them all the time.”
“Shut up, Runt,” Caleb snapped.
“It could happen. He fell a long way. Dean could be like the walking wounded.”
Jim ran a hand through his hair, feeling the disobedient silver strands standing on end. The adrenaline and worry was starting to take its toll as the boys continued to snipe at each other. He sent a silent prayer for strength and resolve, another for Dean, adding to the ones he’d compiled during the drive.
“I know, Sam,” Caleb growled. “I was there.”
“It wasn’t like it was your fault,” Sam said, softly. “You didn’t know.”
Caleb stood. “I need to get some air.”
Sam watched him go, slumping further in the chair. “I didn’t mean for it to sound like that. I was trying to make him feel better.”
“He knows that, my boy.” Jim patted Sam’s knee. “We’re all feeling a bit helpless, and that’s not something we men of action are used to handling.”
“I called Dean a jerk.” Sam toyed with the leather bracelet on his arm.
“You three are guilty of calling each other much worse.” Jim touched his ear when Sam raised a brow. “I know you boys think I’m old, but I have the hearing of a bat.”
“He drives me crazy.”
“Family is good for that.”
“I don’t want anything bad to happen to him.”
“And it won’t,” Jim assured. Sam had changed in the last couple of years as he navigated his way toward adolescence. Jim was proud of the boy’s growing intellect, but sometimes missed the innocence and unbridled joy Sam brought to their world. He was no longer interested in fairy tales, nor was he quick to accept the pastor’s words as simple truth.
“How do you know?” Sam asked.
“I don’t for sure, of course, but I have great faith.”
Sam’s brow bunched, his face settling into a frown that conjured the likeness of John. Jim was accustomed to such looks from The Knight, but it pained him that Sam could mimic the signs of such doubt. “What can faith really do for us?”
A host of quick replies came to mind, the first being it could make the next few fearful hours bearable. Jim knew what Sam was really asking was for assurance Dean would indeed be all right. Jim also knew no answer he could give at the moment would offer such comfort.
“I’d really like a cup of coffee, Samuel.” Sometimes the distraction of a job at hand was called for. Jim had found that especially true for Winchesters. “Could you manage that for me?”
“Yes, sir.” Sam stood.
“Thank you, my boy.” Jim offered him several bills from his wallet, feeling a sudden desire to at least provide some tangible nourishment. “Get yourself and Caleb lunch, too. It may be a while.”
He watched as Sam gave one last yearning glimpse to the silver doors before disappearing down the hall leading to concessions. Jim cast his own longing glance to the clock; silently bolstering his belief Dean would be fine.
It was only when Mackland breezed through the emergency doors two and a half hours later that Jim felt the solidity of his convictions. Caleb and Sam abandoned their card game. John stopped his pacing to rouse Bobby. They all quickly stood to greet the smiling doctor.
“Mac?” John stepped forward.
“He’s okay, Johnathan.”
“Really?” Sam leaned slightly into Jim. The pastor slid an arm over his shoulders.
“Your brother’s fine, Samuel,” Mackland said. “Really.”
Caleb reached out and ruffled Sam’s hair. “I told you he didn’t have a hematoma, Runt.”
Sam slapped his hand away. “No, you didn’t. You were practically crying, dickhead.”
“The boy’s got his Daddy’s hard head, is what he’s got.” Bobby rubbed his eyes. “It’ll take more than a nosedive out of the barn to break that shit.”
“You sure he’s okay? The scans, everything, checks out?”
“I triple checked, John.” Mackland looked at his friend. “This is one for the medical books. He’s got a mild concussion and a few bruises. That’s it. I want him to stay overnight for observation, and he won’t be working in the fields the rest of the week. But, other than that, he’s completely okay.”
“Damn, Mac. Don’t sound so disappointed.” Bobby laughed.
“Yeah.” John sighed. “For once, be grateful your talents are again grossly misused by The Brotherhood.”
Mackland gave a sheepish grin. “I suppose I could have let New Haven’s finest take care of this one.”
“Can we see him?” Caleb asked.
Mac waved them on. “I’ll take you to his room.”
Sam didn’t follow. He hung back, looking up at Jim. “Dean was in good hands all along, wasn’t he, Pastor Jim?”
Jim was caught off guard by the trust shining in the dark gaze. Maybe Sam hadn’t changed so much. “Yes. I believe so, my boy.”
Sam glanced down at the floor, scuffing his shoe. “I’m sorry about what I asked you before.”
“You don’t have to be sorry, Samuel. You can always ask me anything.”
Sam smiled. “Even if I know it’s impossible for you to answer it?”
“You never know, I might just surprise you.” Jim hugged the boy to his side. “Now let’s go see your miraculous brother, shall we?”
“So, what can faith do for us?”
Jim looked out at the congregation, past them to the stained glass window in the back. It showed Mary with child- one of Miss Emma’s favorites. She said it was full of unknowable promises and possibilities. Jim’s gaze went to his family.
John stared straight ahead, the dark circles beneath his eyes betraying his weariness. Despite the happy ending, the scare had been hard on him. It was, an all too familiar reminder of life’s frigidity coming in much too close proximity of the November 2nd anniversary that would forever haunt his family. “Faith can give us the strength to rise from the ashes, and make a new beginning.”
“Anyone of us can feel the ache of grief and despair. Sometimes, it seems more than we can take.” Jim glanced to Mackland remembering the shadow of a man who first came to him. He was proof tragedy could touch anyone, the mightiest sometimes having the farthest to fall. “Faith assures us we are stronger than we think.”
Bobby tugged uncomfortably at his tie. Jim pretended not to catch the familiar eye roll. Bobby was by far no stranger to heartbreak. “It reminds us that we can’t give up, because no matter how dark, the sun will soon rise, and despite the clouds there is a silver lining to find.”
Jim touched the band on his finger, thinking of what he’d found after the darkness and despair of Emma’s death. He missed her every day, but was grateful for the family he was blessed with in her wake. He felt Caleb’s concerned gaze and smiled. Caleb was a testament to overcoming the worst of times. “Faith can move the mountains and furnish us with hope that doesn’t ever end, even when it seems the sky is falling. It’s the little voice that tells us we can when the whole world says we can’t.”
His blue eyes moved to Dean. The sixteen year old was living, breathing proof in more ways than one of the sentiment Jim was trying to impart. “I’ve seen miracles just happen. The most desperate of silent prayers get answered.”
Mrs. Olsen called out a resounding hallelujah. Much to Dean’s chagrin, the widow had showed up at the farm with her infamous tuna casserole on the day the teen was released from the hospital. The pastor would wager she had helped spread the news of Dean’s good fortune, and was behind the cake and refreshments the boy was being treated to after church.
“I’ve seen broken hearts become brand new,” Jim continued, his gaze finally coming to rest on Sam. “That, my boy is what faith can do.”
Sam grinned up at him, delivering a perfectly timed, devout. “Amen.”