About the book
In the aftermath of tragic loss, worship leader Matt Lawson is grappling with debilitating anxiety. The blessings he’d taken for granted—a dream job, a woman he couldn’t wait to spend the rest of his life with, and his God-given musical talent have crumbled at his feet, leaving him reeling in despair, unable to face the wreckage of the life he’d envisioned for himself.
Tara Pierce is ready to put past hurts behind her as she prepares to graduate college and take a leap of faith in her career. When Matt’s grief causes him to isolate himself from everyone he knows, she refuses to stand idly by and do nothing. She has traversed similar terrain before. No one deserves to travel that road alone.
Unexpected attraction flares as Tara reaches into the sea of Matt’s grief and helps ground him in reality. But Matt’s not ready to give himself away again. Can Tara risk her heart and their friendship and let God step in to heal where she can’t?
Rain pelted the roof of Matt Lawson’s silver quad cab pickup, a persistent tink, tink, tink, that morphed into a dull roar. His gaze drifted through the rainy haze and over the dreary landscape. Rivulets of water traced paths down the windows, marring the view. Grey headstones dotted the brilliant green grass like dismal statues. Outside, family members and friends in black attire shuffled through the wet grass toward a canopy, holding umbrellas above their heads.
An ornate ivory casket trimmed in gold piled with bouquets of red and orange flowers sat beneath a white tent. All the colors Andrea loved. Just what she would’ve wanted.
How can this be happening? Heaviness cloaked his entire body, as if he weighed twice his one hundred ninety pounds. I’m not really here. This isn’t real. This can’t be happening.
Pain radiated across his shoulders. An invisible cord tightened around his chest. His throat burned, clogged with a twisting ball of emotion. He’d wanted to cry from the moment he woke up five mornings ago to the devastating news, but no tears came.
He’d much rather have tears than debilitating panic attacks.
From the seat beside him, his phone buzzed. Picking it up, he read a text from his brother Scott. Where are you? Are you okay?
He typed a response with trembling fingers. Still in my truck.
Deliberately inhaling each breath slow and steady and exhaling in the same way, he forced himself to open his door and exit the truck.
From his pocket, he retrieved the ring that would’ve been Andrea’s and fingered the glittering diamond. In a blink, it slipped from his fingers, bounced on the edge of the truck’s metal runner, and landed somewhere beneath the tire.
His chest filled with pain, and his lungs spasmed as he bent on the wet pavement and grasped around beneath the truck. Every inhale burned as he struggled in vain to find the ring. He pressed his head to the wet metal as moisture gathered on his lashes. God, no! Every time he exhaled, his lungs refused to release enough air. Please help me find it, please. Chest aching, stomach clenching, he roamed his hands along the wet ground.
A strong palm fell on his shoulder and gently pulled him backward. “Matt, are you okay?”
Another hand assisted. Together, they pulled him away from the truck until he sat on the cold, wet curb. His head spun as he focused on the person kneeling in front of him; Scott, the oldest of the four. “Breathe, Matt. In and out.”
Desperately wiping the rain and the tears from his face, he nodded without words and struggled to inhale while Scott counted, quiet and slow. “Breathe out.” Matt obeyed, and Scott counted. “Again.”
Rain no longer fell overhead. Someone held an umbrella above both of them. “Wasn’t he going to ride with you?” His youngest brother, Cole, spoke from behind.
“I offered, but he chose not to.”
“I—need—” Matt’s throat constricted. Scott shook his head and held a hand signaling to wait; Matt relented, inhaled, then exhaled before trying to speak again. “My—her—ring—”” He coughed. “I dropped it beneath the truck.” He coughed again and bent his head between his knees.
“A ring?” Cole asked.
“He was going to propose,” Scott said.
“He was going to propose?” Matt glanced backward to find Cole wide-eyed and frowning. “No one ever mentioned that. How did you—”
In black slacks and a black sports jacket, Scott squatted in front of Matt, brows furrowed in concern. He eyed Cole over Matt’s shoulder. “I didn’t exactly know. Only suspected. But he wouldn’t be having a panic attack if the ring didn’t mean something.”
Clasping his hands behind his neck, Matt leaned forward again. Sounding too much like their father, Scott continued coaching him, gentle and calm. “Breathe slow… inhale, exhale. Long breaths, Matt.”
For long minutes, Matt sat struggling to regain a normal pattern of breathing. At some point, Cole handed the umbrella to Scott and left. Then he returned and sat on the other side. Opening his palm, he revealed the ring Matt had been looking for. Matt cleared his throat, retrieved it, and placed it in the inner pocket of his jacket. “Thank you,” he rasped.
Cole nodded and crossed his arms over the tops of his wet knees. “I’m so sorry, Matt.” The rain had soaked his black hair, plastering it to his skin. “I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through.”
Matt rubbed the heels of his palms into his eyes as fresh tears spilled down.
Father, God—Why her? Why not me? He exhaled a shaky breath and bent his head to his raised knees.
How could You take her away?
Tara Pierce faced the sparsely filled sanctuary, heart thudding. The first service of the New Year was still half an hour away. I can do this.
“You ready?” Bobby Drake, interim college worship leader by Pastor Josh’s recommendation, repositioned himself in front of her, blocking her view of the chairs below.
Blazing stage lights illuminated an encouraging grin.
She nodded in the affirmative, but her insides felt like mush. How could anyone sing in Andrea’s coveted spot next to where Matt should be singing? He’d been on sabbatical for five weeks now. She’d stood on stage with Bobby, Renee, and Becky on Wednesday nights, when they all sang together.
This shouldn’t bother me. Why is this so hard?
Renee wasn’t here today, and Becky sang from her position on the piano at the opposite end of the stage.
Why did I agree to this?
Andrea had been magnificent in that second position next to Matt. Though the small group of singers shared the stage in peace together, Andrea belonged better than anyone else. She and Matt were perfect together.
“Tara…” Bobby held a hand to the back of his neck. “You can stand wherever you want. It’s not a big deal.” He averted his gaze and waved his hand dismissively.
No, this was a big deal. They weren’t just singing for the college group. They were singing for the main service. They should be putting their best foot forward. “I’m fine. I can do it.”
Bobby nodded once without argument. “Let’s do a final sound check, then say a quick prayer in the back.” He slipped his cobalt blue electric guitar over his head and double checked his mic and amp plugs. All the other team members around her followed suit.
When Bobby had asked her last week to cover Andrea’s spot this morning, she had accepted—sweeping away the fear, apprehension, and grief—because it was what needed to be done for the sake of the rest of the team.
That didn’t make this task easy peasy by any stretch of the definition.
I can do this. I can be strong. For my team.
Thirty minutes later, everyone followed Bobby onto the stage. While she sang, Andrea’s absence felt stark this morning; each one of them had expressed it during their brief circle-up before service. Even now, though her words sounded confident, her insides swirled.
Matt’s absence was equally poignant. Despite his reserved personality, he had proven to be a wonderful leader, a great friend. What she wouldn’t give to hear the sound of his calming voice again.
Was he in service today, on the one day they were leading Sunday morning worship? Had he been watching them Wednesday nights? She doubted it, as she’d not seen him at all, but it was possible, wasn’t it?
Self-consciousness wormed through her. No wonder he’s stayed away from college group.
After worship ended, Tara grabbed her purse and silently exited out the back door of the sanctuary. Vision blurry, she debated whether she should go home; they still had a second service to sing in. But if anything, Becky could sing from her piano as she’d already done. She sat at one of the small, round tables in the empty church café. Snagging a napkin, she wiped beneath her eyes.
Are my tears for Andrea or Matt? Or both? Through her sheen of tears, she texted Bobby where she was, and then listened to the rest of the service broadcasted on the wall-mounted TV.
What if Matt doesn’t return at all? What if it’s too hard for him? What will we do without him?
She frowned. I’m being so selfish.
Of course, it would be difficult for him to return. For Matt, this grief was fresh, real and raw. Something she didn’t think he’d ever experienced before. At least, she’d never heard him mention the death of anyone close to him. While Andrea’s death was difficult to process, Tara had navigated that dark valley of endless emptiness and agony once before. Though it was treacherous and painful terrain, it was familiar.
Tara jumped at Bobby’s voice. He handed her a hot cup of coffee as he sat beside her.
“Thanks.” She exhaled. Relax, Tara!
“I’m sorry. I should never have pressured you.” He set his coffee aside and folded his lanky arms across the tabletop. “I should’ve asked Josh to select someone else. Someone from the main team, maybe.”
“It’s fine.” She wrapped her fingers around the warm cup.
“It’s not fine. You’re clearly upset.”
Should she mention she was upset over more than the absence of Andrea? She opened her mouth, then closed it again, reconsidering her words. “It’s not easy.” She took a careful sip. “But it’s something that has to be done.”
“Maybe I could’ve waited longer. Maybe Matt will return and it won’t be necessary to worry over it all.” Bobby sipped his coffee while fixating on the TV screen.
“It’s okay, Bobby.” She forced encouragement, hoping to ease the obvious weight of responsibility he carried on his shoulders. Bobby was nearly eight years younger than Matt. “If anyone can handle this, it’s me. I’ve dealt with similar tragedy before.”
His shoulders fell forward as he leaned against the table. His gaze swung to hers. “None of that will stop me from being concerned about you.”
“I know. Thank you.” She offered a sincere smile. “We’re a team, remember?” He inclined his chin in agreement. “We’ll get through this together.”
I still wish Matt would come back—he is part of the team, too—he needs us to help him get through this as much as we need him back.