Sage, Crafted with Love, book 5

Coming May 1, 2023

Chapter 1

They were tiny. So tiny but so incredibly detailed, right down to minuscule fingers and toes. Sage Hoffman studied the silicone replicas, each one representing an unborn baby at a different stage of development. Her gaze wavered between the twelve-week and the sixteen-week models, different in size but still unmistakably human.

Her finger trembled as she stroked the arm of one and marveled at the fingernails of the other. “They look so real.”

Vanessa, the woman leading some of the women from Grace Community Church on a tour of the pregnancy center on this rainy October afternoon, stopped mid-sentence and looked at Sage. “Very real.”

Sage hadn’t meant to speak the words out loud. Heat rushed up her neck, and she figured her creamy complexion must be blazing as red as her hair. She bowed her head over the box and allowed her long hair to mask the blush.

“Getting women to understand how real is one of our greatest challenges. The pro-choice movement has done a marvelous job of convincing women that what they’ve conceived isn’t a baby but a clump of unrecognizable cells.” She motioned to Sage. “Could you hold up the twelve-week example?”

Sage’s hands shook as she took the model out of the box. It fit into the palm of her hand, fully formed and fully recognizable. The weight in her hand made her stomach turn. For a second, she couldn’t breathe.

Her baby had been real.

She’d been lied to.

Of course, she’d known that for a while now. Realized that her decision had been the wrong one…the selfish one. You couldn’t stay eighteen and gullible your whole life. But ten years ago, without a mother to talk to, with only the voices of the Planned Parenthood staff in her ears and the shame of her situation in her heart, she’d believed their lies.

But understanding the truth in your head and holding it in your hands were very different experiences. The pain in her stomach churned acid into the back of her throat as Sage forced herself to be honest. Would she have made a better choice, even if she’d known? She wanted to say yes, but she couldn’t swear to it.

“Could you pass that around, please?”

The request shook Sage out of her morass. “Just this one?”

“For now. You can pass the rest when you’ve finished looking at them.” Vanessa continued her speech. “As the baby comes around, I want everyone to take a few seconds to feel the weight and notice the detail. Does anyone doubt that they have a baby in their hands? Even though at this stage of development, it would be impossible for him or her to exist outside the mother’s body, you’re looking at a whole and complete person. Would someone get the lights? I have a video of a twelve-week ultrasound I want to show you.”

Sage passed the silicone baby to the person on her right and lifted out the sixteen-week version. Bigger, heftier, even more developed. Given her circumstances, she’d known exactly how far along she was when she’d made the decision to end her pregnancy. Exactly fourteen weeks after…

Sage forced the rest of the thought into a small internal box and slammed the lid. There were so many questions she should’ve asked…so many she still might ask if she was given the privacy and the opportunity to do so. Her face flushed with heat a second time. Who was she kidding? There would be no questions under any circumstances. The only other person who knew about the abortion was her younger sister Holly. There were days when Holly’s knowledge brought more shame than Sage was able to carry.

Thank God Jesus had forgiven her. Forgiving herself, though…that was the, seemingly, unattainable goal in her life.

As the light flicked off, the screen on the far wall filled with black-and-white images. Vanessa provided the narration. “As I said, this is a twelve-week fetus. It’s large enough to almost fill the space in the mother’s uterus.” The image on the screen jumped, and the women in the room laughed.

“Babies are quite active at this stage,” Vanessa continued. “They stretch, kick, wave their arms, some suck their thumbs, but because there is plenty of spare room around them, most mothers won’t feel any movement for another month or so. What I want you to see is this.” A dot of light from a laser pointer circled a portion of the baby’s chest. “See that flutter?”

Fabric shifted and chairs creaked as their occupants leaned forward. A dozen voices muttered in the shadowy room.

“That’s the heartbeat,” Vanessa said. “Detectable now for more than a month. Ladies, this is why we do what we do. The majority of the pregnant women who come through our doors have never seen that flutter. Once they do, more than eighty percent make the decision to carry their baby to term.”

“May I ask a question?”

It wasn’t a voice Sage recognized in the dark. She leaned forward. Maybe the question held an answer for her.

“Sure,” Vanessa said. “That’s why we’re here.”

“I read a news article a few weeks ago. It said studies have shown that babies this young can feel pain. Is that true?”

The acid in Sage’s throat threatened to become her breakfast. She didn’t even hear Vanessa’s answer as she tried to swallow back the bile.


She’d never even considered that. Now that she did, it was all she could do to remain upright in her seat. “Dear Jesus.” The whispered words were a prayer as Sage’s stomach rumbled. When imaginary cries filled her ears, she glanced down at the model of a sweet tiny baby in her hands and surged to her feet.

I’m a murderer.

Sage shoved the baby into the hand of the woman on her right and bolted for the door. “Sorry, I’ve—” With a hand over her mouth she scrambled into the hall. She looked around frantically. Where had she seen the bathroom sign?


Sage rushed through the door, kicked it closed, fumbled with the lock, and hit her knees next to the toilet a split second before she vomited her breakfast. She heaved and she cried. Never had what she’d done been more real. The idea of a painful end to that tiny life was almost more than she could bear.

By the time her stomach was empty, Sage was too weak to stand. She found herself curled into a fetal position on the cool tile floor of the tiny bathroom. Somewhere during the process, the desperate cries of a baby had ceased, but the heartbeat from the video thudded in Sage’s ears.

“Father, I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

Daughter, you are forgiven. You know this.

Sage pulled the assurance of the answer close. She did know, but after today the fight to forgive herself was going to take a lot more effort. Before she could explore that thought, a familiar pain that had nothing to do with guilt clutched at her middle and made her gasp. With her knees pulled to her chest she breathed through it and waited for it to pass. It was getting worse again. Her yearly appointment was still weeks away, but maybe she should—”

“Sage, are you OK?”

It was her pastor’s wife, Alex, on the other side of the door. How long had she been gone? “Yes.” The word came out as a croak. Sage cleared her throat and tried again. “Yes, give me a minute.”

Sage got to her feet, wet a paper towel, and wiped her eyes and mouth. She stared at her haggard reflection in the mirror mounted over the sink. The tour of the center wasn’t complete. She had much more to learn if she planned to volunteer her time.

She reached for the doorknob and bile churned in her stomach again as she considered what else she might be forced to confront. Her hand fell to her side, and tears streaked her cheeks.

I can’t do this.

Levi’s smiling face filled her mind. She knew how important this was to him, and he was important to her. Sage straightened. Surely the worst was over. She would do this, not just for Levi, but for the sake of other women and girls she might keep from making the same mistakes.


Even in the security of his apartment, the lightning flash was blinding. Levi Tillis, assistant pastor at Grace Community Church in Garfield, Oklahoma, closed his eyes and, in keeping with a childhood game, counted the seconds between the flash and the thunder. He barely had the number one out of his mouth before the windows rattled with the concussion.

The storm was right on top of him. He’d been so engrossed in his research that he hadn’t noticed the room growing darker, and since his apartment was on the second floor of a three-story building, he hadn’t heard the rain on the rooftop. But now that his attention wasn’t focused on the screen, he heard the rain and the wind as well.

Levi saved his work, emailed the file, closed the laptop, and unplugged it. The wiring in this old building was ancient. Wouldn’t do for his computer to get fried by an electrical surge. If the storm persisted, he could continue to work off battery power for a couple of hours, but now that he’d been interrupted, a break sounded like a fine idea. He needed time to digest what he’d learned.

He leaned back in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose. His sigh was a sharp bark of humorless laughter. Anywhere from $150,000.00 to $400,000.00. That was a lot of money, but how much was a life—thousands of lives in the long run—worth?

Maybe if they aimed for $300,000.00 and divided the fundraising equally between the three churches, it wouldn’t seem like such an unattainable goal.

The Lisa Tillis Memorial Mobile Medical Unit.

The name made him smile. Levi didn’t stop to wonder what his sister would think about being remembered in such a way. She’d been gone for ten years, and as much as he wanted to honor the memory of his twin sister and best friend, this endeavor was about so much more.

If they could raise the money to fund this project, then both cities, Ashton and Garfield, would have the means to provide free ultrasounds to pregnant women in an area of the state in desperate need of the service. The college population was growing, the homeless population was growing, the minority populations were growing. Not just in Ashton and Garfield but in the dozens of surrounding communities.

Oklahoma might have some of the toughest abortion laws in the country now that the supreme court had invalidated Roe versus Wade, but as far as Levi was concerned, that made the situation more urgent, not less. Access to an abortion lay just across the state line in both Kansas and Colorado. The news was full of stories about women streaming into other states to end their pregnancies. They needed this mobile unit. Women who saw their babies on the screen generally kept them.

God only knew if such a resource would’ve made a difference in Lisa’s life.

Levi shook himself free of the thought. There was nothing he could do to re-write history, but maybe he and his friends could re-direct the future.

His cohorts in this endeavor were Easton Cramer, the youth pastor at Valley View here in Garfield, and Riley Soeurs, the outreach pastor for Calvary Worship in Ashton. Riley was engaged to Holly Hoffman. He and Levi had become good friends since Levi had started dating Holly’s sister Sage a few months before. Levi would be lucky if either man ever spoke to him again once he gave them the details of his research, but if God wanted this to happen—and Levi was convinced that He did—then He’d make a way for the three congregations to come together and raise the funds.

He picked up his phone and punched in Riley’s number as he walked to the kitchen.

“Hey, bro,” Riley said when he answered. “Did you change your mind about tomorrow night? It’s not too late to make the reservation for two more people.”

“Nope. We just doubled last weekend,” Levi switched the phone to his other hand and pulled a package of crackers out of the cabinet. He’d worked through lunch, and now he was starving. “Don’t you need some alone time with your lady? She’s going to think you don’t like her.”

“Holly and I are more than fine, but I know how socially inept you are. I figured you might do better in a group.”

Levi snorted. “The day I need your help to impress a woman, you can bury me ’cause I’ll have been dead for a week.”

“Suit yourself. I’ve heard this restaurant has the best steaks in three counties. With it being Sage’s birthday, I thought you might want the best for a change, but if you want to settle for the same ole, same ole, that’s your choice.”

Levi was tempted to share the highlights of the evening he had planned for Sage, but he didn’t want to run the risk of any of it getting back to her ahead of time. Not that Riley would tell her, but Riley might tell Holly, and there were no secrets between the sisters. “Are you done?”

“Pretty much. But, if you didn’t call to speak about the beautiful Hoffman sisters, what can I do for you?”

“Hang tight. I want to link Easton in on this call.”

“Business, not pleasure then,” Riley said. “Why didn’t you say so? Get him on the line.”

Levi put Riley on hold and clicked on Easton’s number. While it rang, he linked the three calls. “I’m back,” he told Riley.

“Hey, this is Easton. Sorry I missed you. Leave me a number and I’ll call you back.”

“Dude,” Riley said, “that’s the answering machine on his old land line.”

“I always hit the wrong option when I call him. I don’t know why he doesn’t discard that old relic.”

The line clicked. “You guys know this thing recorded your whole conversation, right?” Easton’s voice was full of suppressed laughter.

The call was silent for a few moments as if no one knew who should talk next.

“Whatever.” Levi cleared his throat. “I had some preliminary info about our project. I thought you guys might want to know what we’re looking at.”

“Lay it on us,” Riley said.

“Let’s hear it,” Easton added. “Pastor Sisko asked me last week if I had an update for him.”

“Are you sitting down?” Levi continued without waiting for a response. “Fully equipped, ready to hit the road, the median price for the mobile unit will be around three hundred.”

“Three hundred…” Riley’s swallow was audible. “Thousand?”

“Dollars?” Easton finished.

“Yes.” Levi jerked the phone away from his ear as Easton and Riley both whistled. He hadn’t heard any clicks, so at least neither of them had ended the call. “Guys, we knew this wasn’t going to be cheap.”

“Yeah, but that’s at least a hundred grand more than what I guessed,” Riley said. “I trust you have some hard copy figures we can share with our bosses.”

“The email is in your inboxes. If it’s any consolation, that’s a high estimate. I figure it’s better to aim for too much than get caught with too little.”

“OK, give me a second,” Riley said.

“Me too,” Easton followed.

“You don’t have to read it right—”

“Yes, we do,” Easton said. “You got us into this—”

“I think what my friend is trying to say,” Riley interrupted, “is that we are behind you one hundred percent. Just hang on while we take a quick look.”

“Fine.” Levi scrolled his Instagram account while he waited.

Riley was the first to make it back to the call. “I like it.”

A few moments of silence filled the line as Easton remained silent.

“Easton, are you with us?” Levi asked.

“Yeah.” But Easton’s whisper didn’t contain a lot of confidence.

“Something wrong?” Riley asked.

“I don’t know. It’s just…” He sighed. “What you sent us looks great. The numbers seem reasonable for what we’d get, but…I don’t know if I can take this to Pastor Sisko right now.”

“Why not?” Levi asked. “You said he was asking for an update.”

“I don’t think he’s expecting this. I mean, we just started a building program with a two-million-dollar price tag. I don’t know about—”

“I thought you agreed that this project was worthwhile.” Levi bit the words off, annoyed to be hitting a wall of resistance before they even got started.

“It is,” Easton said. “Of course, it is, but—”

“But what?” Levi couldn’t help the demanding tone. “Do you want me to come talk to your pastor? Because I don’t have a problem doing that if you’re afraid to.”

“Bro, take a step back,” Riley whispered into the silence that followed Levi’s outburst.

Levi ran his free hand through his hair and took a couple of deep breaths. He needed to remember that this project was personal for him in ways it would never be for his friends. “I know it’s a lot of money. What can I do to make you feel better about presenting this to your boss?”

“Nothing, I guess,” Easton’s tone was less animated than before. “I told you I’d help, and I will. Seeing the amount on paper just took me by surprise.”

“It took us all by surprise,” Riley said. “But the thing you need to remember, the thing you need to make sure Pastor Sisko understands, is that we’re dividing the cost of this three ways.”

“Exactly,” Levi added. “Maybe more ways than that if we can get some more of the area churches involved.”

“I like the sound of that,” Easton said, a little enthusiasm returning to his voice. “I’ll give him a copy of your report Sunday and tell him what we’ve discussed.”

“Same,” Riley said. “I’ll see if I can get an appointment to bring this before Calvary Worship’s board next week.”

Levi exhaled some of the stress that had been building since seeing the final figures. “Thanks, guys. I’m sorry if I over-reacted.” He closed the call and crossed the room to the entertainment center. He picked up a picture taken of him and Lisa the summer before their senior year. She’d been so beautiful. He missed her every single day. “We’re going to get this done,” he whispered. “I’m going to make sure that you didn’t die for nothing.”