SARAH’S SMILE – by Dawn Kinzer
In “Sarah’s Smile”, Book 1 of The Daughters of Riverton Series, Dawn Kinzer teaches us to love and forgive. God’s love comes with the gift to forgive.
Sarah McCall (a heartbroken missionary-to-be, awaiting a call to leave for Africa) abruptly halts, as if before an invisible wall, as a tall figure is silhouetted in the sunlight. Her heart beat painfully, but it’s too late to flee. After ten years of being apart, a time to heal and bury her heartache, Reverend Peter Caswell, Sarah’s very own Lazarus, comes back into her life. Peter is still the same, yet somehow strangely different, his eyes piercing deep into hers. His decisions had cost them dearly. Sarah wants to meet his little girl. Peter’s eyes lit up at this. Mary was a lot like her – buoyant and high-spirited. The compliment by comparison and contrast stung Sarah, who once believed they would have children together. When Sarah first saw Mary, she instantly recognized the little girl with golden curls, whose eyes were exactly like Peter’s own. His precious little daughter, the living proof of Peter’s love for Lily. For a split second, Sarah wanted to hug her but she restrained herself. Mary’s blonde, curly ringlets bounced merrily. The child‘s angelic beauty and charm mesmerized them all.
From his sad look, even after two years, Peter still grieves his late wife. His marriage to Lily had brought Sarah bitter heartache, a lost, irretrievable past, to be buried forever. Used to city life and its metropolitan lifestyle, Peter could never convince Lily to visit his rural home in the country. Lily also found one of Sarah‘s letters to Peter, words of encouragement he never received after marrying Lily, a vivid reminder of who he‘d once been and who he hoped to be. Lily accused him of loving Sarah, and though he denied it, Peter had lied to himself, a stunning reality adding guilt to his heavy burden. Lily wouldn’t set foot in the same town as Sarah, and refused to allow Peter to go alone or with Mary. Peter’s sister, Ellie said that Lily made it very difficult for her to know either Lily herself or Mary , never giving them a chance to meet. Peter couldn’t persuade Lily to visit his family even for a few days. He never liked to talk about Lily either. Ellie tried to earn Lily’s friendship, but she always felt like an intruder. Sarah couldn’t even bear to hear about the life Peter had made without her.
Sarah longs to receive the letter to the African mission field, a call to set her free to do something noble and self-sacrificing with her life, a promise once made to her grandfather. Sarah was grateful her grandparents had taken her in when her own parents had deserted her. How could the debt ever be repaid? While Gram had a sour, demanding disposition, Grandpa Nels had showered Sarah with affection. Sarah inherited his gift for numbers and his accounting business. It helped to feed them before the Home Store was built. When her grandfather died, Sarah gave up her dream of making her own mark on the world.
Sarah fervently believed that despite anything she faced, God would never abandon her. She had promised God and her grandfather to share this truth with hopeless, lonely people. When she could leave Riverton, no one would stand in her way. Not even Peter. Sarah’s mind was firmly made up. She‘d waited years to begin a new life. Peter had made his choice when he married Lily, a high society, city-bred woman. Sarah would never fit the role of a pastor‘s wife. On the contrary, she loved to race horses across pastures, enjoy fishing or tramp through woods. Sarah was devastated when Peter abruptly went out of her life. No vows were made, but love was mentioned. Sarah nurtured it in her heart, though his letters became fewer as time passed. Peter had viewed her only as a friend. How else could he have married Lily? Sarah never returned to their favorite spot, unable to bear Peter’s loss, the place in her heart where she bid farewell to Peter forever.
Peter Caswell yearns for the past they once shared together. But could they share a future together, after their turbulent past? Can trust, once broken and lost, ever be restored? The den was a quiet place for Peter to prepare his sermons. At the sight of Lily’s photo on the fireplace mantel, guilt and regret filled Peter’s heart. The memory of the night Lily died haunted and taunted him mercilessly. How could Peter seek God‘s forgiveness when he couldn‘t accept it himself? He would have removed Lily’s photo, had it not been for his daughter. Mary missed her mother and needed to keep her memory alive. Peter was fond of his daughter. When he scooped her into his arms, swinging her around in a circle, Mary squealed. It sounded like music to her father‘s ears.
Abandoned as a child by her parents, Sarah strives to overcome a tarnished family history and the tormenting heartbreak inflicted by Peter, when he jilted her to marry Lily, which, try as hard as she might, Sarah just cannot forget. Meanwhile, however hard Peter tries to get on with his life, he simply cannot forgive himself for his wife’s death. Peter hopes Sarah still cares enough to give him a second chance at love. But there is stiff competition, as William, a charming newcomer, vies for Sarah’s heart, pursuing her affections to pull her away from Peter. William was a fine man but Sarah couldn’t get involved with anyone as she was leaving. She had to do something with purpose in her life, to make a difference in other people’s lives. She knew the importance of people hearing about God’s love for them. She also had to get away as she couldn’t risk being hurt again. Not by Peter or anyone else.
Rebecca Hoyt, Sarah’s childhood nemesis, expertly manipulates her way into Peter’s life, to add to Sarah’s scalding cauldron of woes. As far as Rebecca was concerned, it had been worth the long wait. Now she could get what she always wanted. Her whole life had been prepared for Peter’s return, all her hard work for this moment. Rebecca always knew that Peter would be hers one day. He held a special place in her heart ever since they were children. But however hard she tried to get his attention, Sarah had ruined it, standing in Rebecca‘s way, with her appalling tomboy manners, running off with Peter to look for squirrels or down to the river to fish. Sarah would do anything that her mother didn’t forbid as ‘unladylike’ to win the affections of Peter. Peter deserved a genteel wife whose family didn’t have a sordid past, an educated spouse and a good mother for his daughter. None stirred Rebecca’s feelings more than Peter. Rebecca could never have what she wanted most – a child of her own. Her parents knew her sad plight, but Rebecca kept the heartache a secret. Teaching helped to fill the aching void in her heart. Rebecca poured her life and soul into her students. Peter was educated, and having married into society, was accustomed to refined ways. She understood children, and his daughter needed a mother. Rebecca could be a proper minister’s wife. It was all for a purpose. Everything would work out. They were made for each other. She would brook no interference from anyone, doing whatever it took to win Peter. Rebekah might make a good choice, but unable to bear it, Sarah brushed the disheartening thought aside.
Will Sarah and Peter ever find their way to true forgiveness, for a second chance at love? Are their past mistakes too irreconciliable to make a life together impossible? Sarah had believed in Peter, but after his engagement to Lily, all her correspondence had stopped. Sarah didn’t deserve to be kept in the dark about his relationship with Lily. Peter couldn’t expect to go back to the way it was between them. Things had changed while he was gone. He understood. He spent hours on his knees praying for God‘s help to start over again. His wounds needed healing — even more than Mary‘s. Sarah appearing like an angel to the rescue, felt like a real answer to prayer. He missed her smile — the way he could talk to her about anything — the way she understood him and knew what was in his heart – even before he said it. She had never let him down. Peter hoped that Sarah would open her heart up to him again. He didn‘t deserve her love. But after seeing her, he fervently hoped that she might still care. They‘d been close once. Maybe they could rediscover what was lost. This was his heartfelt prayer.
Sarah’s Smile adroitly presents the affairs of the heart in bitter and passionate conflicts of love, heartbreaking secrets and second chances. Stepping back in the annals of time to 1902, the story’s appealing dialogue and distinctive descriptions are steeped in historical fiction, charmingly delineating late-Victorian characters, replete with the hurts of the heart and redeemable traits. The storyline passionately revolves around the Christian themes of trust, forgiveness, and the bitter consequences of lost choices.
Peter’s yoke of obedience to Christ and responsibility for people made him want to make things right with Sarah. His decisions had affected their relationship, and he had regretted it ever since. He hoped that his sermon in church that morning would help restore even a small part of what they had lost. It was Pentecost Sunday, the day to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, to symbolize the Holy Spirit descending like tongues of fire upon Christ‘s disciples. Sarah was the first to hear and support Peter’s decision to go into the ministry. He dearly wanted her to be proud of him. He didn‘t want to let her down. Sarah should be hanging on to every word Peter spoke. This was his first sermon in their church and the very first she had ever heard him preach at all. She‘d known about his calling since Peter was fourteen and she only thirteen. Neither had any doubt about what God wanted him to do. Peter spoke about forgiveness, swiftly drawing Sarah back from her memories to the pulpit. Shame and remorse for not paying attention swept over her. Had the sermon of forgiveness been directed at her? Sarah had forgiven Peter but she could not let him back into her life. She could not afford to risk being hurt by him again. For Sarah, vulnerability with Peter meant grieving afresh. But as she desperately tried to protect herself, she might lose out on God’s blessings for her life.
After the church service ended, joy and heartbreak almost suffocated Sarah. She should be singing God‘s praises. Wasn’t Peter fulfilling his calling what she had prayed to see. But she had asked God to let her be a part of Peter’s life. That prayer was unanswered. Emotional turmoil filled Sarah’s heart. In the deepest part of her heart, she wanted him back as her confidant, best friend, and more. When it was Sarah’s turn to greet Peter, he reached for Sarah‘s hand and grasped it with a strong, comforting grip. Her words stuck in her throat. His gaze didn‘t waver as he asked her to stay on for a few minutes. She agreed, wondering what could he possibly want here? Whatever he said that day would attract attention. Sarah waited under a tree and Peter’s sister, Ellie soon joined her, her glowing face flushed with excitement. Sarah hugged her. She told Ellie how Peter had asked her to stay for a few minutes. They needed to be honest about some things, their friendship too important to keep secrets. Ellie gave Sarah an understanding smile, knowing that she and Peter needed to talk at the right time. Living in the same town and attending the same church, they could never avoid each other. Ellie told Sarah how hard she had been praying.
This captivating, true-to-life, well-crafted story of love and forgiveness woven by real, refreshingly human characters, touches the heart at many levels. The author, Dawn Kinzer has an uncanny ability to immerse her readers in a heartwarming story with a remarkable ring of truth. Peter and Sarah remain alive in our hearts, making us feel their joys and sorrows as if we know them personally and share their lives intimately. There are precious mementos of those times – In Sarah’s world, a gold locket around her neck carries great sentimental significance. It was the only thing her mother left behind. The locket was empty, signifying her parents’ absence in her life and waiting for Sarah’s own family photo to fill it with love. Sarah’s late grandfather deeply respected missionaries and gave Sarah a copy of David Livingtone’s journals, which she still hugs to her heart. Symbolic of the times, Sarah’s grandmother enjoys tatting with a tatting shuttle and hook, to create delicate handmade lace to make lace doilies and edgings, as well as to embellish lace collars and cuffs on clothes.
Compiled by Miriam Jacob
from “Sarah’s Smile” and Dawn Kinzer’s website