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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Season(s) of a year or life (01/13/11)

TITLE: Seeds
By Rachel Phelps


Stephen is particularly quiet this evening.

I know it’s not just because he’s enjoying dinner – I raised the boy, I know his too-hungry-to-talk stance, and this isn’t it. He isn’t a boy anymore, either, but a mother is allowed her delusions, even when her son is pushing 50.

“How are the girls?” I ask as I push mashed potatoes around my plate.

“Great,” Stephen answers around a mouthful of roast beef. He wipes his mouth, an apologetic smile haunting his lips. “They’ve been really busy with homework – it’s a tough semester for both of them.”

I can see the regret hiding in the wrinkles by his eyes. He knows he should encourage the girls to visit more. I don’t pressure him. If I were two teenage girls, I wouldn’t want to spend much time in this old farmhouse either.

My eyes drift out the window. The snow is dirty, ugly. The last, stubborn throes of winter are clinging to the earth, slow to yield despite the days of sunshine and southerly wind. I can empathize. I know I’m nearing my winter’s end. Unlike the fields around me, I have no spring plowing and planting to look forward to. Humans only get one turn through the seasons, a reality I used to decry when I was in my summer and early fall days. Now that the end is closing in, I find myself relieved that I needn’t try to rally for another round, just gather the strength to hang on till the end. Matthew would scold me for my attitude – but he’s not here to do that anymore.

“DeAnn said she’ll bring one of her blackberry pies by sometime this week,” Stephen volunteers, now intent on making up for his earlier silence. “I think I’ve got her talked into going blackberry picking again this summer, so I’m willing to part with one.”

“Well, I do feel special,” I say.

We share a quiet, emotionless chuckle. Both of us are pointedly ignoring the empty chair across from Stephen. Over the last few months, I’ve developed a tolerance to seeing it empty. Stephen hasn’t come by much since Christmas, so the visual reminder is sharper.

53 years. Over 40,000 meals I’d cooked and served with Matthew sitting in that chair – grinning, stealing a taste or a kiss before prayer. I know because two weeks after the funeral I forced myself to sit down and do the math rather than cry. This end-of-winter meal had been a tradition between father and son to discuss irrigation and what crops to rotate. Stephen continued it out of courtesy when Matthew officially gave him the reins of the farm eight years ago. God Himself only knew why he’d decided to come this year.

Stephen clears his throat, and I realize a heartbeat too late that I’ve been staring at his father’s empty chair. I shift my gaze back out to the snow. A muddy bank nearly obliterates the flower bed – not that there’s anything but a few dead sticks to see anyway. I’ve decided I’m not going to bother planting anything this year.

“Jeff wants to come home for spring break and help with some planting.”

I nod. “He called and placed an order for peanut butter balls and cooked carrots with extra brown sugar.”

Jeff, the very image of his grandfather. Jeff, the only one who still seems to care that Grandma is around, now that I’m not part of a set. He calls about twice a month – quite the respectable average for a junior in college.

Stephen raises a forkful of the carrots on his plate, eyeing them as if he’s measuring the brown sugar in this batch. “He, uh, said he might bring his girlfriend with him.”


“Apparently Gina’s pretty special, and he wants her to see the farm.”

Another grandchild married. Well, it was about time Jeff got on the ball. His cousins had beaten him to it by a good three years. The smile spreading across my face felt almost foreign, partially because it was the first one in weeks that I hadn’t had to prompt.

“So, will we be having a family get together that week?” I ask, rising to take my plate to the sink.

“Of course,” Stephen says, coming to put his arm around my shoulders. “A visit to the farm isn’t complete without one of your dinners.”

Another unbidden smile. I look out the window at the snowbank. Maybe I’ll do some planting this year after all.

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This article has been read 841 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Beth LaBuff 01/20/11
This is tender, moving, poignant… all the above. The comparison of winter with the season of your MC's life was so good. I LOVE that she decides to plant something this year after all [the "thought seeds" planted by Stephen took root.]
Colin Swann01/21/11
A beautifully written family story - thanks!
Sarah Elisabeth 01/21/11
Beautiful work!
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/21/11
Your story shows the progression of family life accurately and poignantly. I felt like I was sitting at the table with your mc and her son.
Henry Clemmons01/22/11
This made me chuckle in a good way. A very warm and well written story of a moment that rings so true. Excellent job. The visuals, for me, were spot on. I like how the title tied in with the ending, holding the entire piece together. I think subtle is the word I was hunting for. A very subtle, enjoyable, masterful read.
Laury Hubrich 01/22/11
I felt like I was listening in to this mother/son conversation. So normal yet both had different thoughts running through their minds. Very nice writing. I like how it gave the mother an umph to look forward to another spring.
Connie Dixon01/22/11
This brought me to tears, so emotional, so tender, so natural - perfect in every way. Loved it, love the simplicity of the title.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 01/23/11
This story so pulled at my heart. I wanted to wrap my arms around the mc. and hold her tight. You made her seem so real to me.
Author Unknown01/23/11
Wow. But, hey, didn't expect less than wow from you :) Now if we could hand your MC a copy of my story... :)

very well done. love your knack for great phrasings.

Carol Slider 01/24/11
I love understated stories, and this one is so well done in every way. That little seed of hope has been planted in this grieving Grandma's heart, and it may very well bear more fruit than she could possibly imagine. Beautiful!
Mona Purvis01/25/11
I love a story that is so believable that it mkes me think of people I know to play your characters. I can think of many.
Soft, not rushed or forced. Your writing gives the reader a deep glimpse into your soul.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 01/25/11
You asked for some serious red ink so I went back and read it again. I still think it's great, but I did notice you used a lot of dashes. I found it a tad distracting.

I know what you were trying to accomplish, but your words and pace did that. Maybe if you just used one or two.

Your dialog Was so wonderful I could feel the tension and hesitation in the room. This is a winner in my book-with or without the dashes:)
Edmond Ng 01/26/11
Lovely story that warms the heart. I can visualize the scene and the settings of the entire story. Excellent piece! I enjoyed the read completely.
Lynda Schultz 01/26/11
Well done.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 01/28/11
Congratulations for ranking 8th in Masters and 12th overall!