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The more I dwelled on my immediate future, the more tense I grew. Whatever peace I'd experienced earlier was fleeting at best. I closed my eyes and exhaled, searching to find it within myself.

None came. No surprise there. The only person I'd ever been able to depend on was myself. If ever there was a time I needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps, it was now.

Coming into this church had been a mistake. I should have known better. Churches like this weren't meant for people like me.

I started to get up, feeling a little like Indiana Jones in the movie when he had to step off a ledge in faith and hope that a bridge would appear out of nowhere. As I stood, my purse dropped to the floor, making a loud noise that seemed to reverberate through the church like an echo against a canyon wall. For just an instant I stood frozen.

It was then that I noticed I wasn't alone. Someone else was in the church, kneeling in the front. At the sound of my purse dropping, the man turned and looked over his shoulder.

Then he stood and I froze in shock as he started walking toward me. Without a doubt I knew that whoever this man was, he was going to ask me to leave. I stiffened, determined to meet him head-on. If he was going to toss me onto the street I would be sure to tell him I'd been kicked out of better places than this.

Chapter Two: Drew

I knelt in front of the church, broken and lost.

Empty.

My wife was dead, my children were hurting, and my congregation was drifting away. Fewer and fewer numbers showed up each week. In essence, my faith was shot.

On my knees, I poured out my heart in prayer, seeking guidance and help. I'd started out in ministry with enthusiasm and high expectations. My goal was to make a difference in people's lives, to write books based on Scripture that would reach others in their faith journey.

The problem, as best as I could describe it, was this: I couldn't give away what I didn't have to give. I felt bereft, hurting and uncertain. Katie's death had taken a toll on me and the children—that was understood. My congregation had been patient with me. More than patient, but it was three years now and it was no better.

The intense grief had passed, but I realized things were different. Something had changed.

I wasn't the same man any longer.

I didn't have what it took to stand in front of the church each week and speak to the needs of the people. I couldn't help anyone when I seemed incapable of helping myself. I'd stumbled in my own walk, lacking faith, lacking trust.

Simply lacking.

Some might suggest I'd burned out, but the fact was that I hadn't been able to start a fire. There'd been nothing to put out, especially in the last three years. I hung my head, disappointed in myself, pleading with God to guide me, show me what He would have me do.

I was half inclined to submit my resignation to the elders. That was an option, of course, but the ramifications to myself and the children would be substantial. Mark and Sarah had been through enough, dealing with the death of their mother. The last thing they needed at this point was to be uprooted from the only home they'd ever known. Plus, in my current state of mind, I couldn't be assured another church would be willing to accept me as their pastor or that I should even continue in ministry. Maybe it would be best all around if I sought out another career entirely.

I'd talked with Linda Kincaid, one of the women in the congregation, who worked as a tireless volunteer. She had retired from teaching and played a major role in the life of the church. She'd become my right hand, along with my assistant, Mary Lou. Between the two of them, they'd kept me afloat this long.

Linda was a trusted friend and a good sounding board. I don't know what I would have done without her. It was her hard work that kept the volunteer programs running smoothly. As I prayed, I thanked God for her and her willingness to step in and help. She'd suggested I stick it out, give myself time. She'd once told me that if I'd felt God was far away, then I was the one who'd moved.

Talk about hitting the nail on the head. What I needed now was to find a way back.

As I continued to pray I heard a noise in the back of the church. I wasn't aware anyone else was in the sanctuary. When I got up from my knees I saw a woman standing at a back pew. Even from this distance I noticed she had the look of a deer caught in the headlights. Her wide-eyed expression made me think she was up to no good.

I started toward her with the elders' warnings ringing in my ears, reminding me of the risk I took leaving the church unlocked during the day.

They felt it was an open invitation to vagrants and vandals. I'd won the argument, but now I wondered if I'd made the right decision.

As I drew close I saw it was a young woman. Her gaze skirted mine, which made me suspicious.

"Can I help you?" I asked. "I'm Drew Douglas, the pastor here."

"Pastor?" she repeated as if the word felt awkward on her tongue.

"What can I do for you?" I asked, doing my best to disguise my reservations. The small suitcase by her side was curious. She didn't look like a tourist, and the church, while one of the older ones in town,...

This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition. ...

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