Friday Sneak Peek – Happily Ever After

Looking for a fun Christian romance to read this weekend? You’re in luck because my book, Happily Ever After, is FREE! What?! Yes, you can get your copy here. For a sneak peek, keep on reading…

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It had been the most amazing week of her life. Thus far, at least.

At seventeen, Cammie Evans was a girl with a profound calling. She’d given Jesus her heart at six, had given Him every choice since then, and had, just that week at her last summer of youth camp ever, given Him the future.

She’d gone forward one night after a foreign missions presentation, committing the rest of her life to service overseas.

It hadn’t been the first time she’d heard about going to the nations. She’d grown up in one of the biggest churches in the convention, New Life-Dallas, where missionary speakers were familiar faces, the stories they told were thrilling, and the plea at the end of their services was one she could very nearly recite from memory.

She’d heard it before. It hadn’t ever spoken to her quite like it did that week at youth camp, though.

For the first time ever, Cammie had heard something different in what was a standard foreign missions presentation. People in a small country she’d never heard of dying without Jesus. The fields being ready for harvest but the workers being few. The authority of Christ, as He called His people to go and make disciples, His command clear as delivered there in the hot summer heat, where teenagers were distracted, sponsors were exhausted, and Cammie’s heart burned within her.

Because she heard it. Really heard it.

The words were personal, the instructions were implicit, and the call was clear. She believed it, she was moved by it, and she gave her life to it.

Foreign missions. Her whole life given overseas. It was thrilling, embracing this as a reality.

And what made it even more thrilling was the cute guy from Cabin #3 who was similarly called to missions right after the very same presentation. How well had that worked out, right? Cammie had been ecstatic about it, seeing the same excitement in his eyes as they’d both gone forward… noting the smile he’d given her so many times since then. They’d spent every evening after the service talking about what God was doing in their lives and marveling that He was doing the same thing in them both.

Jeremy Fulton. Missionary in the making. Sigh.

Cammie could see it now. They would end up together, of course. Promises made during the short week at camp would lead to something substantial, something real, just a few weeks from then, a lifetime ahead…

Meeting up on weekends home from college. Or even better, going to college together! Seminary, barely scraping by together. Appointment with the mission board. A house in a jungle somewhere. An apartment in a bustling city. Somewhere, together, married and happy. And babies. Loads of babies. Born quickly, one right after another, the whole family a missionary team.

Her happily ever after.

Oh, Lord, let it be. Cammie prayed it again and again, even as she made her way to Jeremy that night.

She had plans to meet him between rec time and dinner, and as she let her mind go wild with all the possibilities that were surely waiting for them just beyond youth camp, she didn’t hear the squeaky voice until it was right over her shoulder.

“Cammie! Hey, Cammie, wait up!”

She turned to see who was there and barely refrained from rolling her eyes.

David Connor.

Ugh.

He’d been like her shadow all week. She knew him from church, where his father was the senior pastor. Of the thousands of church members there at youth camp that David could have picked to annoy most regularly, though, he picked Cammie. She was good friends with his sisters, and while he’d been annoying and a nuisance of grand proportions for the majority of her life, he’d gone a step beyond normal those past few months and that past week in particular.

He’d probably finally hit puberty and had a crush on her. Was probably already imagining them together.

Ugh. As if.

Sure enough, as soon as he had her attention, he crossed his scrawny arms over his sweaty t-shirt and said, “What’s up, Cammie?” with a bizarre head nod, the annoying twang of his voice even worse than normal.

Oh, good grief. Was this his impression of smooth? Jeremy Fulton was worlds beyond this. Because Jeremy Fulton loved the Lord, because he had a heart for the world, and because he was a whole foot taller than David Connor and not a fraction as smelly.

“David, why are you that sweaty?” she asked, looking down at him and visibly crinkling her nose when she saw the massive sweat stains barely hidden underneath his pitiful biceps.

“Oh, you know,” he said, trying to make his voice sound deeper… and failing. “From playing some basketball with the guys. Got recruited to play with the older guys. Those dudes are in eleventh grade, Cammie.”

“And what grade are you in?” she asked, knowing the answer but wanting to hear him say it on the off-chance that he would be shamed by his age and would stop trying to act older than he was.

“Going into tenth,” he said, not shamed in the slightest. “I’m fifteen. Going to get my license this year. Can take you out on a date, you know… well, if you’ve got a license. Because I can’t legally drive without another driver in the car until my birthday.”

“Oh, no,” she barely managed, momentarily stunned by this. David Connor. Assuming that she would want to go on a date with him. Not in this universe, not any time in all of eternity –

“No license, huh?” he sighed. “Well, we can wait until I’m sixteen –”

“Oh, no, I’ve got a license,” she said, correcting him on this point.

“Cool,” he said, smiling, his voice squeaking as he was obviously getting very excited, thinking that a license meant she would be seen in public with him. “So, I can pick you up, take you out just as soon as –”

“Oh, no, you little weirdo,” she said, intent on straightening him out. “We’re not going out. Like, ever, David. In fact, we won’t even be seeing each other after this week. I’m leaving for college.”

He looked disappointed at this. “Really?”

“Yeah. Really.”

“But it’s only the first week of August,” he protested, frowning.

“Moving into the dorm early,” she muttered. She looked around again for Jeremy. Any moment now, he’d be out here, looking for her, ready to promise her the future she’d been hoping for, ready to be the guy she’d been dreaming of, ready to be her happily ever after–

“Why do you keep looking around, Cammie?”

She kept looking, tossing discarded words David’s direction. “I’m looking for someone. And it’s none of your business.”

“Who are you looking for?”

The little doofus just wouldn’t take a hint.

“Good grief, David,” she sighed. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“No,” he said, smiling. “Got someone else to take care of clean up duty in the cabin for me. Paid him twenty bucks.”

She glanced at him. “Why would you do that? Do you hate clean up duty that much?”

“No, I did it so I could walk you to dinner. Maybe sit with you in worship later tonight.”

A mental image of David with his scrawny arm around her popped into her mind.

No way.

“I already have someone who I’m going to sit with.”

“Charity? Hope?” His sisters, her best friends. But no.

“No. Jeremy Fulton,” she said.

He looked confused. “Why would you want to sit with him?”

She gave him a knowing look. “Because.”

This seemed to wound him. “Oh.”

And just when she was sure he’d been silenced (at last), he added, with a shrug, “Well, tomorrow morning we can sit together then, huh?”

She shook her head at his persistence. “No, David. Go away, David. Good bye, David.”

“Cammie,” he said, almost desperate now, “Jeremy’s really not a serious guy, you know.”

She frowned at this, at even the suggestion that her future could be anything less than perfect. “What?”

“Well,” he said, “I mean, I get that you like him probably. Most of the girls here do.”

They did. Cammie had noticed that, how he’d spent most of the camp with a swarm of girls around him.

But she was different. He felt something real for her, of course.

David kept right on talking. “He’s just not all that serious about Jesus. You know?”

“Plenty serious,” Cammie said. “Called to missions, just this week. Just like me.”

David’s eyes grew round at this. “Really? Is that why you went down to the front during the invitation on Monday night?”

“Yeah,” she said. “And that’s why Jeremy did, too. Called to foreign missions. So he’s got it together, you know –”

“Really?” David asked. “You’re called to missions?”

“That’s what I said,” she offered, glancing around again.

“Wow,” David said. “That’s wonderful, Cammie. I can see you doing that. You’ll be perfect for it.”

And Cammie gave him another look, puzzled by these affirming words that sounded eerily like wisdom, coming from her best friends’ smelly kid brother.

“Uh… thanks,” she murmured.

David nodded. “It’s great about you, of course. But Jeremy Fulton…” He shook his head and raised his eyebrows. “Just because he’s going into missions doesn’t mean you should spend all of your time with him, you know.”

“I’m not spending all of my time with him,” she said irritably. “And if I am? So what? Maybe God intends it, you know.” She smiled at the thought. “Intends for him and me to fall madly in love with one another.”

“That can’t be,” David said, shaking his head.

“Oh? And why not?”

“Because.”

“Because why, David?” she asked, getting a headache the longer the little snot kept talking.

“Because God already told me that you’re going to marry me.”

She frowned at this. He simply smiled.

Oh, the very thought. Horrific.

“Shut up.”

“Okay, so maybe He didn’t –”

“Goodbye, David.”

And she left him standing there with his mouth hanging open.

THE STATES

Ten Years Later

~Cammie~

“And that was that,” Camille sighed, finishing the last bite on her plate, then pushing it to the center of the table.

She was amazed she’d been able to eat so quickly, given how much she’d been talking.

Her sister, Chelsea, however, wasn’t even halfway done with her own meal. But that had more to do with the baby she’d been nursing practically since they sat down. She only just now had Avery back on her shoulder, coaxing a burp from her as her own meal grew cold in front of her.

“And that was that?” Chelsea sighed, the question in her voice.

“Yeah,” Camille nodded. “Hey, give her to me so you can eat.” She reached out for the tiny little bundle, her heart clenching at the sweet smell of the baby shampoo as Avery turned towards her. As she nestled her niece close to her shoulder, she smiled at how the baby put her tiny fist on her aunt’s chest, content to hear her heartbeat.

Such sweetness. It made the conversation even more bittersweet.

“Oh, Cammie, I really thought this one might work out,” Chelsea said sadly, picking up her fork and going back to her food. “He seemed so serious.”

He had seemed that way. He really had. She’d thought just last week that he was as serious as she was about calling, about going, about being sent… but only a few dates in, it had become apparent that he wasn’t very serious at all. She was sure that he probably had a very fruitful and meaningful ministry here in the US, but as far as calling went to go to the nations, he had no desire to go anywhere.

Most men didn’t.

She understood it… in part, at least. When she finished college, she’d gone directly to the mission field for a one year term in Brazil. She’d been single, of course, but she remembered not being bothered much by this because the rest of her life was still in front of her. Plenty of time for romance, for marriage, for babies. At the end of her term, she’d come back, spent six months in transition, hoping that she’d meet someone at the seminary as she prepared for the next term…

… and nothing. She signed on for two years in Russia and was gone before the US had become normal to her again. She’d been single, of course, but she remembered counting two years as not very long at all. She would be back stateside, still with plenty of time for marriage and a family, and her whole life ahead of her.

And nothing. Another trip back to the US, another transition, another two year term.
She’d been single, of course.

That last two year stint in Japan had convinced her of a few things. That calling was better than romance, most definitely. That she really didn’t need a man. That she could live the rest of her life without children.

She’d met a man, though. Of all things during this transition, she’d met a man. He said the right things, lived the right way, and was immersed in the right kind of ministry in the US. She’d begun to think that God was finally giving her what she’d been too ashamed to pray for all those years on the different mission fields.

Love. A husband. A family.

And she could have had it, she knew. But Jason had no call overseas, so she would have had to forfeit her own calling, her own passion, to meet his.

It wasn’t worth it… was it?

She sighed and smiled at Chelsea. “It’s okay. I can just love on your children. When I’m home, that is.”

“You’re not home enough,” Chelsea began. “And it –”

“Hey, Chelsea.” Camille glanced up at the cute guy holding two dessert samplers out to their table. “Thought I’d bring these by since you’re almost finished.”

Chelsea smiled at him. “Thank you, Grant. Do you remember my sister, Camille?”

“Sure do,” he said. “How’s Japan?”

“Wonderful,” she said, sincerely meaning this. She’d hoped to be sent back to Tokyo, had considered going career status for a seven year term, but had backed out at the last minute. Seven years was a long time. And signing up single in a career capacity felt like giving up any last dream she had of ever meeting anyone. “Back for just a while. Then, onto what’s next.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy your time in the US,” he said. “Chelsea, it’s all on the house.”

And before Chelsea could thank him for his generosity, he was making his way back to the kitchen.

“Why,” Camille said, watching him leave as she kissed her niece’s head, “didn’t you ever fix me up with him?”

Chelsea frowned. “I tried, Cammie,” she said. “Do you not remember?”

She did… vaguely. She’d resisted her sister’s attempts to fix her up with this successful, godly guy, her husband’s best friend, because he clearly wasn’t going overseas.

Maybe she was being too picky, huh? Maybe it was…

“Too late now,” Chelsea sighed. “He’s married.”

“Ugh,” Camille groaned. “Who isn’t?”

“You know,” Chelsea noted, “there’s nothing to say that God can’t bring you someone on the mission field, Cammie. That as you’re being obedient to what He’s called you to that He won’t bring someone right to you. Or bring you right to someone.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Camille murmured. “Life is about more than men. I’ve lasted this long without a man, and –”

“You’re only twenty-seven,” Chelsea reminded her.

“Only,” Camille sighed. “How many children did you have by the time you were my age, Chels?”

“Two,” Chelsea said quietly. “And my husband was dying of cancer. And I had no job and no way to take care of my family. But you, you have nothing but a bright future ahead of you, with your degree, with your exciting career –”

“And you have it all,” Camille noted, looking back down at the infant. “God worked it out. You got a job, you remarried, you started having even more babies.”

Chelsea watched her for a moment. “Different callings for all of us, I guess.” Then, more quietly, “But saying yes to God doesn’t mean you say no to everything else. Maybe Jason was just –”

“Not the right guy,” Camille confirmed. “Even if he had been called… he just wasn’t right. I need to just do what God has for me to do and not worry about things that don’t really matter.”

Chelsea nodded quietly at this. “Where is your new position? How long are you going this time?”

“Three years,” Camille said, struggling for a smile. She’d be thirty when she returned. “Another temporary position….then maybe I’ll finally go career, huh?”

“Is it Japan?” Chelsea asked, studying her sister.

“Oh, no, they assigned me to something totally different,” Camille shook her head. “They’re sending me to some place in Africa. A country called Namibia.”

~David~

David Connor shut the vents off in the car not even two minutes into the drive.

Why were Americans always using so much AC, anyway? The buildings were like ice boxes, and the cars they drove were freezing.

He hadn’t remembered this about home. Three years overseas hadn’t erased memories and the very foundational elements of his heart, mind, and soul, but they’d done a number on how he remembered common, every day things. He’d already nearly had a wreck, so unaccustomed after just a few years to driving on the other side of the road.
This is why he was the passenger on this car ride. That and Paul Connor rarely let anyone else take the wheel in his presence.

“Cold, son?”

David glanced over at his father, noting the slight smile on the older man’s face. “Older” almost felt like a subjective thing in this case. David could confirm, without any doubt, that he was Paul Connor’s son. He’d tried to grow out a goatee his first semester away at college and had shaved it off immediately when, at parents’ weekend, his mother, there in pearls, heels, and a dress so expensive that it could have paid the tuition for the semester (had he not been given a full ride based on his parentage alone), had put her hand to his face and murmured, “Mercy, David Paul… you’re like the second coming of your father.”

Yes. They would all be in need of divine mercy of the highest sort if there was a second coming of Paul Connor. David had been clean shaven ever since, but the resemblance was still there. But he looked more like Paul Connor’s younger brother than his son, given the way the election committee had obviously taken care of the gray in Paul’s hair and beard. Distinguished was a good look for traditional convention presidents, but Paul wasn’t going to be their traditional guy.

He was going to be the guy to change it all.

David was glad he would be overseas and wouldn’t have to witness any of it. His sister, Hope, had filled him in on the details the night before as they’d sat around the kitchen in the home they’d grown up in, eating cereal at 3am while David had shivered just slightly, still jet lagged and freezing.

Air conditioning. Sixty degrees below everywhere he went. Why had it not bothered him before?

“Yeah,” he said, finally answering Paul’s question. “I’m going to come down with pneumonia with the constant changes from heat to cold.”

“No time to be sick,” Paul declared.

David knew that. Had always known it. A childhood spent as a VIP to the church’s pastor, a lifetime spent as an accessory to the high profile pastoral couple, and now… well, now an important man by his own right.

David Connor. Missionary for the board. The youngest ever appointed in a career capacity. He’d come home for the first time in three years to share wisdom from the field at a regional recruitment meeting focusing on high school students. He’d gone to one just like it years ago when he was finishing up his senior year of high school and looking towards college, and every choice he’d made since had been towards the mission field, towards youth ministry, and towards reaching a new generation for Christ, wherever he was sent.

He could well remember being the age of the students who would be there that weekend, largely thanks to the students he worked with overseas even now, who were a constant reminder of what his teenage years had been like, how he’d never been spectacular in any sense of the word, how Christ had shown Himself to be constant and true even in light of this, and how God had shown Himself to be able to work through even the least of these.

Even David Connor, son of the most powerful man in the convention, but just another guy half a world away, speaking simple truths about life and faith, watching as God did the work of changing eternities.

“Busy weekend ahead,” David noted, thinking of the schedule he’d been emailed weeks ago, along with flight information, which had him arriving in Dallas two days early, at the special request of Paul Connor.

David had been glad for it, though, even if his father was still just as intimidating as he’d grown to be during those years of change at New Life-Dallas. His children had been teenagers when the church membership had multiplied exponentially, and as they had spent those difficult years watching one drama after another unfold at church because of their father’s strong-fisted leadership, they’d seen life at home change as well.
David could well remember the evening dinners, as a family, that his mother had insisted on, no matter what changed in their lives. Paul Connor would come in the door on time, drop his briefcase and his phone on the couch, and visibly pause there for a moment, leaving the church and all of its troubles there, then come to the table. Charity would talk all of their ears off about cheerleading and drill team. Hope would offer the occasional odd commentary on whatever book they were studying in her English class. Phoebe would talk about the different things they had on the calendar, expertly steering clear of the church obligations, making a life for them all apart from the church.
Paul would watch them all with an amused grin, his face visibly older from the stress of his life in the office, which always seemed to come back home with him, no matter how hard he tried to leave it and no matter how hard the women in the family tried to pretend like he had. When the ladies were just getting started on really talking, he’d turn to his son and say, “What about you, David Paul? What have you got going on?”

And David would look up from the perfect gourmet meal his mother had prepared, shrug, and say, very simply and very honestly, “Just Bible study. And discipleship group. And youth praise band. I practically live at New Life, Dad.”

All three women would look back at him, at this mention of church, then glance back at Paul, waiting to see him pick up the mantle of the pastorate, along with all of its stresses.

But he would always smile and say, “Lord help us, David Paul. We all do, don’t we?”

The talk at the dinner table would always move to spiritual matters, as Paul took his role as shepherd to his family seriously, as he taught them Scripture and its place in their lives. He was there for each of the girls in the way that best befit them. To Charity, encouragement for the gifts she was given and nudging towards the role she was likely to play one day. A wife and a mother, given her affinity for and popularity with the opposite sex (David could very nearly hear Phoebe draw in a concerned breath and mutter a prayer at this) and her natural way with children. To Hope, straight up honesty about what she was made to do. Ministry, full-time, in some capacity, and wasn’t it a shame that she wasn’t a boy because even at seventeen she could exposit the Scriptures like a well seasoned theologian. (Although she was an odd duck socially speaking and had Phoebe regularly, yes, drawing in a concerned breath and muttering up a prayer at social functions.)

And to David Paul, the prized only son…

Well, David would end up doing something, surely. The awkward, immature boy hadn’t been fit for much except being there for every single event the youth ministry of the church put on, soaking in more than anyone would have suspected a boy his age could, and finding his significance not in what he could do for the Lord but in what the Lord had done for him.

There was the real prize. A genuine faith, born of a genuine heart.

Paul Connor had finally seen this in his son, just as David was coming of age, was growing into his own man with his own calling, and he’d taken him under his wing, just as David had expressed a calling to ministry.

But it ended up being a calling to the foreign mission field, not to the pastorate. What a surprise for them all.

David would never forget Paul’s words to this, there in the pastor’s office, when he’d told him what was ahead.

What a waste.

Not that Paul hated the nations or despised Christ’s call to them. But he’d obviously grown to see something of significance in his son, after so many years of wishing it and believing it wasn’t going to happen, only to have his hopes for a future ministry dynasty at New Life-Dallas all but dashed to pieces.

Paul’s work, apart from his hopes for his son, had only gotten harder for him, harder for them all, in those last few years David had still been stateside. He’d come home from college to find that the church was stable again, that the leadership was moving forward with all the changes had brought, and that life was good at New Life-Dallas.

The difficulty had become the convention.

A man couldn’t do what Paul Connor had done at New Life-Dallas without creating a stir seen and heard of, far and wide. As David was preparing for a future on the mission field, the convention was preparing Paul for a campaign, backed by the sizable and influential New Life-Dallas and the Texas arm of the convention.

He was going to be the next president of the convention. It would be a mess, electing him, because he was so conservative, theologically speaking. David could well imagine the infighting and politics that would be involved in the election, especially with his father at the helm, almost encouraging it with his smug grin.

As Paul had once told him, “The convention is shifting to the left. It needs a jerk to the right. And I, David Paul? Am that jerk.”

He was right about that. But David would be back overseas and wouldn’t have to witness any of the drama involved.

“Busy weekend,” Paul repeated even then, as he pulled into a parking space at last, looking over at David. “Your mother and I wanted to come and hear you give the keynote address on Saturday night. But the convention’s booked us for something.”

David nodded at this, touched despite himself that they’d wanted to hear him speak. Not such a waste after all, if they were that proud of him. “Well, you’ve heard the stories already. Still get my newsletter from the field.”

“We do,” Paul said. “Your mother ferries it around to every Sunday school class in the building. You’ve got thousands of people at New Life who love you as their own, David Paul.” He watched his son for a long moment. “Which is part of what I wanted to talk to you about today. Let’s go get some grub.”

And before David could ask what he meant, Paul was out of the car and making his way into the steakhouse. David hurried to keep up with him.

“Thought we were just going to eat,” he said. “Catch up a little.”

“Never go out and eat just to catch up,” Paul said. “Eating’s for big meetings, you know. Especially over steaks. For getting things done. Getting things decided. Hope and I solve half the world’s problems every time we meet up for steak.”

David could well imagine it, thinking of Paul Connor and his feminine progeny banging their fists on the table and loudly putting everything in its place.

“What problems are we solving today?” David asked.

Paul smiled at this, striding into the restaurant. “Mine, David. You’re going to solve mine. And you should probably tell that to our guests.”

“Guests? Aren’t we eating alone?”

“No,” Paul said, stepping up to a table already occupied by two older men who stood as they saw him. “David, you remember Hollis McGregor and Stan Ellis.”

He did. They’d been deacons at New Life-Dallas since the day Jesus had resurrected from the dead. Or at least it felt like they’d been around that long.

“I remember,” he said, holding out his hand. “Good to see you gentlemen.”

“Welcome back from Africa,” Stan said, smiling, returning his handshake. “Your mother keeps us all well informed about all the wonderful work you’re doing there.”

“What’s the name of that country again?” Hollis asked. “Nambibia? Or was it Nambia?”

“It’s Namibia,” David said, looking to his father again. “Southwest corner of Africa.”

“Youth ministry, gentlemen,” Paul said, smiling with a twinkle in his eyes. “My David is the only missionary there, working with an entire city full of teenagers, all by himself.”

“Pioneer missionary, then?” Stan asked as all four men sat at the table. “First one on the ground, so to speak?”

“Well,” David said, wondering at his father’s earlier words about how he was here to solve problems, imagining what kind of problems those could be with the world’s two oldest deacons present here, “I’m actually not the first. There was a couple there before me. For decades, actually. They retired before I went onto the field.”

“Back in the States, then?” Stan asked. “This couple?”

David nodded. “I’m guessing. I’ve never been in touch with them.”

Paul raised an eyebrow at this, still smiling. “That’s odd. Isn’t it?”

For a few seconds, David thought back to his introduction to the field so long ago, how his national friend, Piet, had mentioned these former missionaries in passing very briefly, and how his American girlfriend, Kait, had told him how she, too, had once worked for the board. She’d come to Namibia to help them retire, to close out the board’s trusts there, and had just never moved on herself.

David was the only one from the board there now, building on a foundation set decades before by missionaries he’d never once been encouraged to call or communicate with regarding all that they could’ve taught him.

He hadn’t thought it odd until now.

“They just moved on,” he said to his father. “No sense in having me bother them when they’re just trying to enjoy retirement.”

“Something’s not quite right there,” Paul said simply, putting on a frown for this. “There should be some connection between the past and the present there, if the board really cared about the future of the ministry in Namibia.” And even in his disapproval, David saw some delight in this, that there was indeed something not quite right in it all.

Of course.

Because even if Paul could appreciate the efforts on the foreign mission field, the calling overseas was still a waste for his own son, who could better be used for his purposes here at home.

And David suddenly figured out just why he was probably meeting with the deacons today.

Before he could speak to it, there were drinks to order, meals to order, and pleasantries to make. Inquiries about the rest of the family, all of them come into town for a couple of days to see David, of course.

Charity and her husband, John, pastoring a church out in west Texas, back in DFW with David’s nephew with them, Charity expecting his soon-to-arrive niece in another few months.

Hope, still living at home and finishing up another post-graduate degree at the seminary, all while helping her father in the endeavors he had at church and giving her time to a job at an inner-city missions organization.

Phoebe and Paul, ever the same, just busier now with New Life-Dallas and the convention keeping them that way.

“And you, David,” Hollis said, smiling at him, just as the food was delivered quickly (VIPs and all) and the blessing was said over it. “Well-seasoned now in the youth ministry. Hard experience won in that small church you served at in college. And now on the mission field. I would have thought the son of our future convention president would have pulled some strings to get more comfortable experience, quite honestly. But you’re a self-made man, and we appreciate that about you.”

Self-made man. Poor man, actually. David had found a small church during college where the membership was old enough to not know why the name Connor meant anything in the world of big churches and conventional matters. They’d let him come in to work for free as their “youth intern,” and he’d taken the non-existent student ministry from a middle-aged couple who taught Sunday school for the occasional teenager who’d come to church to a huge ministry to over one hundred students. He’d gone into the schools in his free time, giving guitar lessons as an after-school elective, and he’d formed friendships, mentoring relationships, and made himself available. Students got to know him, looked up to him, and heard the words of life he shared. Before that little church could make the connection that this Connor was related to another Connor who had done for a dying church in Dallas what others had said was hopeless… well, David had become a legitimate pastor, shepherding a flock of young people who brought their friends, who became disciples then disciplers, and who went to college with hearts for ministry, just like David himself had done.

When graduation came, he left a booming program that had forever changed that small church for the better.

And Christ had forever changed him.

They’d never paid David a dime, but he couldn’t have cared less. He was paid in lives changed, in seeing the fruit of seeds sown, and knowing that God had His hand on his life.

When he began looking for opportunities on the mission field where he could do likewise, he’d been contacted by a woman on the field in Africa with former ties to the board. Kait, of course. She told him about a place he could come to, where teens were waiting even that very moment to know Christ, where he could set his own course, and where lives could be changed for generations, altering an entire nation. Though she needn’t have worked so hard to convince him, she put her all into it, giving him information about the field, setting up correspondence between him and Piet, who had his own ministry as a medic traveling the country, and getting David back in touch with the board, where they offered him the position as a career missionary.

Where he still made next to nothing. Because, as Kait said, that was just part of the deal with the board and their interest in Namibia.

No matter, though. It had all been done on his own. Not because he was a Connor, not because of his father.

A self-made man.

“Yes, sir,” David said, nodding at this. “I love what I do.”

“That’s what we were hoping to hear,” Stan said, glancing over at Paul. “We have a proposition for you, David.”

And here it was. David readied himself.

“A proposition?” he asked. “Is New Life-Dallas wanting to send a team out to Namibia to help? Because I could sure use it.”

Not likely. He’d said it in jest, to affirm his fidelity to his current situation, but it caught the two deacons off guard.

Paul simply smiled at his son, knowing just what David was up to.

“Well,” Hollis said, “not really. It’s just that –”

“We’ve got a problem, David,” Paul said, his man-to-man voice out. “A big ol’ problem at New Life.”

David refrained from saying “again?” and went with the more appropriate response of, “What seems to be the problem?”

“The in-fighting is done,” Stan said simply. “Was over a long time ago. When your father brought the church back to a more conservative stance, he stood strong and the in-fighting stopped.” He glanced over at Hollis.

“But now,” Hollis said, “with his increased duties with the convention and all that we know is ahead, there’s room for people to come in and undo what’s been done, you see.”

David looked between the men, thinking, above all, that this all seemed so secondary to the main thing – sharing the Gospel, discipling others, reaching the nations.

“And?” he asked, feeling bolder and bolder by the minute, simply because he didn’t care about the politics or what was so clearly bothering these men.

“There could be issues,” Stan said delicately. “People coming up and threatening all that your father worked so hard for. All that you certainly suffered through as his son, walking with him during all of that.”

David thought of Paul, dropping his briefcase on the couch, and pausing for a long moment to leave his work at work… never succeeding.

He could see that. It had made a difference in their lives. But what did that have to do with him now?

“Let’s just cut through the crap, gentlemen,” Paul drawled, taking delicacy out and tossing it away like garbage. Classic Paul Connor. “David, Jay hates my guts now. I said some things about the inerrancy of Scripture. And he hates Scripture. And now? He’d like to turn half the church against me, if he could.”

Jay. Jay Middleton. He was the long time student minister at New Life-Dallas. So long, in fact, that he’d been David’s student minister. Charity and Hope’s as well. He was in his fifties, had a family, teenage sons of his own now, and a long tenure at the church.

“Jay hates Scripture?” David asked, having a hard time believing this.

“Not all of it,” Paul conceded. “But there are parts he’d like to ignore. Explain away. Tell everyone that they’re not as important as other parts. But you know where that thinking gets you.”

If all of Scripture wasn’t true then none of it was. If Jesus couldn’t be trusted with even one of His words, then none of His Words could be trusted, including those He’d said about who He was and what He’d come to do. The Gospel hinged on the inerrancy of Scripture, and if you didn’t have that, you didn’t have anything.

David knew that from all he’d been taught as a child, from all he himself had taught to others.

“That’s a problem,” he affirmed.

“Yes,” Stan cut in. “And so we’re looking to make some changes. Termination for Jay, likely, if we can find the right man to bring in to replace him. Someone the church will affirm unanimously, so that there won’t be conflict when Jay is forced out.”

David thought, with significant discomfort, of his student minister, a man who, despite his more liberal leanings, still had the good of the Gospel in his heart, who probably had no idea of what was going on here today.

“Dad,” he said, looking over at Paul, “I get your concerns. But you just can’t do that to a man who’s faithfully served for so long. And served so well. Blindsiding him like that. It –”

“But I can do that,” Paul said, shrugging. “And I will. The inerrancy of Scripture is a big deal, son. That, and he would have my own job if he could manage it.”

“But why would –”

“David,” Hollis interrupted. “Don’t worry about Jay. He’ll find something else. The main thing we want you to think about now is our offer.”

“Offer?” David asked, his mind rushing. Then, stillness. And comprehension. “Oh, no…”

“The job is yours,” Stan said. “Jay’s salary, all of his benefits, with the added prestige of being named not solely the student minister of the largest church in Texas but also the associate pastor of that church. Second only to your father. Who, of course, would pass the pastorate on to you one day.”

Paul smiled at his son.

David very nearly cringed.

“Really?” he asked. “This seems like a bad idea.”

“The church loves you,” Stan said. “There would be no argument as far as you’re concerned. This kind of position would never normally go to a man your age with your limited experience. But you’re David Paul Connor. And with you on staff…”

He looked to the other men, waiting for them to say it.

“Well, just go on,” David said, knowing just exactly where this was going.

“David,” Hollis spoke up, “with you on staff, there’s going to be a shift in power at the church. Towards our purposes, of course, with keeping your father on in full force at the church, even with the convention responsibilities that will be on him as well. It’ll be impossible, in other words, to vote your father out on anything with you standing there as the next in command.”

“You’re assuming I’d vote with him,” David said, shooting Paul a look.

And at this? Paul laughed out loud. “Grew up finally, didn’t you, David? Took three years in Africa, but I think you’re finally the right man for the job.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so, Dad,” he said, putting his napkin down on the table. “I thank you for your time, gentlemen, but I don’t think I’m hungry anymore.”

And with that, David committed a faux pas that would have shamed his mother plenty and left the table without being excused.

He was all the way to the lobby when his father finally caught up with him.

Paul Connor was laughing.

“That’s the way to do it,” he said. “Leave the negotiations like you’re never coming back. Jay’s salary package sucks. Make them offer you more.”

David shook his head. “I don’t know why it surprises me that you think that, Dad,” he said, “but I’m still very nearly speechless. And I’m not leaving the work in Namibia.”

“And it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’d say that,” Paul said, smiling at him, then sighing. “Can you blame me, though, for wanting my son by my side, ready to take over the pastorate one day?”

A vision of himself at the New Life-Dallas pulpit raced through David’s mind.

“It’s just not me,” he said.

“You love Scripture, and you have a heart for the Lord,” Paul murmured. “Don’t limit yourself in what God might make you into for His purposes, David Paul.”

David took in a breath at this, praying that he wouldn’t become his father one day. Surely not…

“But you, in Namibia?” Paul shrugged. “Still good for what’s going on. We can still make it work.”

“What?” David asked, befuddled by this. “What do you mean –”

“I mean I support what you’re doing,” Paul said, still leaving many more things unsaid, likely. “And you’ll forgive me for pushing my limits in this. We just miss you around here. That’s all.”

And that wasn’t all, of course. But David accepted it.

“I know, Dad,” he said.

“Come back and have lunch,” he said. “No more talk of New Life and all that. Promise.”

David watched him for a long moment, wondering if this was really it.

He’d be back in Namibia in a few days. What did it matter?

“Okay,” he said softly, allowing himself to be led back to his father’s table.

 

 

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