The slow steady plodding of Clancy, a Belgian draft horse, was the only sound to break the silence of a cold January morning in Indiana. The year was 1853, and the winter was a hard one, with snow accumulations nearing four feet. The temperatures held steady at zero, but the wind chills pulled them down into the minus twenties.
Bundled against the biting cold, John Yoder sat astride his faithful horse. Saddle bags, hanging across the equine's haunches behind him, held steaming loaves of fresh baked bread doomed to be frozen by the time they were delivered.
John tied not to fret. “At least they'll stay fresher longer.” He shivered, in spite of wearing several woolen layers, and having hot baked potatoes stuffed into his pockets. Coming out on this frigid day was not something he had looked forward to, but it was a most urgent act of mercy. He had been informed the day before about a young family in desperate need of help. A traveling cobbler had stumbled upon them by accident.
“Name's Loucks. Only spoke to the Mrs., ” said the cobbler. “Don't know much about 'em, 'cept there's youngins. I would have stayed to help out, but I have three families still waitin' to have their yearly shoes made.”
It didn't take long for John to recognize the prodding of the Holy Spirit, and he set about his task without question. The trip was slow and arduous, giving him time to think about his life. He'd traveled to Indiana from the Ohio valley with expectations of establishing a bakery in the quaint little town of Wabash, and he prayed daily for a wife who would love to bake along side him.
His hopes were dashed, upon finding a bakery already opened when he arrived. Yet in spite of the discouraging setback and lack of unmarried women, his faith remained strong. He staked a claim on twenty acres of land near the town, built his house, planted wheat. For the time being, he decided, he could at least perfect his trade. He carved the words, “I am the Bread of Life”, into the oak beam over his hearth, and while he waited to see his dreams realized, he baked. No one, who came to visit, went away without a fragrant loaf to “sample”. He had faith that as word spread, it wouldn't be long until he would be open for business.
A low wicker from Clancy drew John away from his thoughts. He turned around to check the sled pulling sacks of wheat and provisions for the struggling family. It all looked intact beneath the roped canvas cover. Satisfied, he patted the horse and looked up to see the humble cabin nestled in a forest of maple trees and red twig dogwoods, but the lack of smoke coming from the chimney chased the smile from his face. Fearful, he urged Clancy forward.
“Dear Father, please...” he prayed, as he moved snow away from the unlatched door. In the dim light of the single room, he saw only a mound of blankets and furs piled in front of a cold fireplace. He shook them, but there was no evidence of life.
“Mr. Loucks? Mrs. Loucks? ” He whispered, unwilling to believe God had taken him there for naught. He lifted a corner of the covers and stared at a pale woman, who struggled to open her eyes. Her chapped lips quivered when she could speak. “I tr-ied to keep the f-fire going.”
John ran to get kindling and some small logs. When the flames took, he grabbed a bowl and filled it with clean snow to melt. After offering water to the mother, he hurried to get more wood, while she nursed her twin baby boys. Mr. Loucks, he learned, had been killed in a logging accident.
Once the fire was roaring, Emily pulled back the covers. She sat with her arms wrapped around her sons. In spite of what she'd gone through, she looked lovely, and John wondered at the stirring he felt in his heart. He retrieved his saddlebags, and knelt before her.
“Mrs Loucks. I mean, Emily. Do you? What I mean is... Well, you shouldn't eat this too fast,” he blurted out.
Emily saw the bread and wept. “Thank you. For everything."
Their hands touched, as she brought the loaf close to her face. She drew in a deep breath, and then she murmured softly, “I love to bake bread.”
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