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By VANESSA DAVIS GRIGGS
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Vanessa Davis Griggs
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFor I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Pastor George Landris watched her as she walked gracefully to the other side of the banquet hall of the church. He couldn't help but smile; she had that effect on him. She had to be the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. With the passing of time, that belief had only intensified. Knowing it would be inappropriate for him to act on his true impulse, he casually strolled closer.
"I hope you won't think badly of me for saying this," Pastor Landris said in a low voice only she could hear, "you are, without a doubt, the loveliest woman I've ever seen."
"Careful there, Pastor-I happen to be spoken for." She held up her left hand and wiggled the three diamond rocks that adorned her ring finger.
The two of them were standing near an empty table. Many of the people who had attended the banquet were chatting in groups as they prepared to leave.
Pastor Landris moved in closer and began to whisper softly in her ear. "Well, your man is indeed one blessed man, if I say so myself. Tell me ... honestly. What are the chances of the two of usgetting together later tonight after this thing is over?" he asked-his deep voice, velvety-smooth. "You know ... to talk?"
"To talk, Pastor?" Skepticism laced her voice. "Just to talk?"
"Madam, I am a man of God, and I assure you, where the Lord leads, I have vowed to follow." He leaned back to be able to admire her better, then began shaking his head. "Mmm-mmm."
She tried, but failed-she couldn't help but smile. "Okay, Pastor. You know, it's hard to say no to someone like you, especially with that irresistible charm. How can one be so good, and yet be so bad at the same time?"
Pastor Landris bit down slightly on his bottom lip and grinned even more. He touched the back of the chair, as though he needed to do something to keep that one hand occupied. "Well, now, Mrs. Landris, I must confess-I have it bad for you. Only for you."
"Landris, you need to stop," Johnnie Mae Landris said, fanning at him while trying to keep her voice in check. "You would think after being married for three years-"
"It won't officially be three years until Wednesday." He grinned, his eyes again performing a quick scan of her petite body from head to toe as he slowly shook his head.
She smiled at him as he watched her before she swatted him playfully. "I told you, you need to stop."
"What?" he asked innocently.
"Flirting with me in public." Johnnie Mae continued to blush. She waved at someone walking out of the door who waved goodbye to her. The crowd that had originally filled the room earlier that night, was now down to a handful.
"But you're my wife. It's perfectly acceptable for me to flirt with my wife, isn't it?" Pastor Landris rubbed his well-trimmed goatee. He looked down at his black patent leather Prada boots before looking back up at her.
"There's also a time and a place for everything."
"'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven ...'"
"Yes, Mr. Walking Bible, and there's 'a time to love.' In a church facility, in front of people, immediately after a lovely banquet given by members and friends of the church, is neither the time nor the place," Johnnie Mae said as she began to sashay away in her beautiful Prussian-blue, beaded evening gown. She needed to hug a few more people and thank them for their contribution to such an unforgettable evening.
"I suppose this means we have a date for later tonight, then?" he yelled at her, a little louder than he'd intended. Quickly, he looked around to see if anyone had overheard him. His eyes were immediately met by those of a woman who had recently become a member of their congregation.
"Good evening, Pastor Landris."
"Oh, please-I've asked you several times to call me Faith. Sister Morrell just sounds so stiff and formal." She smiled.
"As you prefer-Faith."
"I just wanted to personally congratulate you and Mrs. Landris on your wedding anniversary." She pointed to the banner on the back wall that read: September 8, 2001 to 2004-Only The Beginning of Something Beautiful. "Three years is a long time to be with one person."
"Not really. Not when the ultimate joy will be celebrating our golden anniversary."
"Then I probably should say that three years would be a long time for me. But I suppose had I been as fortunate as Johnnie Mae to have married someone as wonderful as you-"
"Excuse me, but I believe you have it all wrong."
A puzzled smile came across her face. "I'm sorry. I have it all wrong?"
"Yes. You see, Johnnie Mae is not the fortunate one here at all-I am," he said with pride. "I am so blessed to have found such a woman to share my life-three years with her has been more like three minutes. 'Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord.' As far as I'm concerned, our happiness together now is merely a small hint of what is yet to come."
Faith's face quickly fell. "Oh," she said, a little disappointed, then recovering her pleasant demeanor. "That is so sweet!" Pure honey seemed to drip from her lips. "You two are blessed! So blessed. Congratulations again."
"Well, Sister Mor ... I mean, Faith. Thank you. I'll be sure and tell Mrs. Landris."
"Please do. I was hoping to catch up with her before she left." She pretended to be earnestly searching, glancing at the few people still chatting in small groups. "I'm sorry we missed each other, but I must be heading home now. My sister, Hope, wasn't feeling well when I left, and I don't want her waiting up too late."
"Your sister is under the weather? I wondered why she hadn't come to the banquet. Hope worked so tirelessly, helping to put this together."
"Oh, it's nothing too serious. She was having some difficulty breathing earlier today. Probably just another one of the panic attacks that she's been known to have from time to time. Charity is keeping an eye on her until I get back."
"Please tell Hope we'll be praying for her speedy recovery. And that she was sorely missed tonight."
Faith maintained her smile. "Of course. I'll be sure and tell her. See you tomorrow at services."
Pastor Landris watched as she left. There was something about Faith and her identical twin sister Hope that really bothered him. He felt sure they loved each other, but something was going on between them. He just couldn't put his finger on what it was.
Pastor Landris and Johnnie Mae arrived home. It had been an enjoyable but long evening. Johnnie Mae had gone upstairs to step out of her evening gown-she loved Prussian blue and hoped to find a daytime dress in that color. Everyone had been so wonderful at the banquet tonight, the congregation having given them a lovely third wedding anniversary celebration. It had indeed been a glorious night, but she was exhausted. Tomorrow was Sunday and the start of yet another long day.
As she briefly closed her eyes, she couldn't help but reflect on all that had happened over the past few years that had brought them to this place ...
Chapter TwoAnd they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. (Genesis 37:19)
A few years earlier, Pastor Landris had been relieved of his duties as the pastor of Wings of Grace Faith Ministry Church in Atlanta, Georgia, a congregation that grew from some 37 members to over 4,000 under his leadership. Prior to his dismissal, he was asked to tone down his support of women in ministry. He didn't.
Pastor Landris and Johnnie Mae had just gotten married on September 8 of that year.
Johnnie Mae didn't immediately relocate to Atlanta, and as it turned out, she never had to. God spoke to Pastor Landris and instructed him to move to Johnnie Mae's hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, to start anew.
Thomas Landris, Pastor Landris's older brother, had made a mess of some investments he'd been in charge of on behalf of his brother. Fifteen years earlier, Thomas had invested money in Microsoft stock for both him and his brother. Thomas took his out early; Pastor Landris left his to grow.
And grow it did.
Pastor Landris became a multimillionaire, but when the IRS started looking for its share, he discovered his brother had cashed out the stocks, as Pastor Landris had instructed him to, but invested the money elsewhere without his knowledge or approval.
Thomas did end up recouping some of the lost money, and before Pastor Landris knew it, he was to be the owner of an FM radio station in Birmingham. Pastor Landris received this as further confirmation that he was indeed being led to relocate to the Magic City.
In December, Pastor Landris sold his house, packed his belongings, and moved to Birmingham.
He left without a church requesting him to come as pastor, to a home technically belonging to his wife, along with his brother and a few others who had also made the decision to relocate.
Thomas was to become the general manager of the radio station his brother was in the process of buying. Sapphire Drummond, a therapist, came along from Atlanta because she was dating Thomas, and she wanted a change of scenery. Sapphire and Theresa Jordan, Pastor Landris's ex-fiancée, had been best friends. Angela Gabriel, who preferred being called Angel, had been hired by the original owners of the radio station previous to the sale. In fact, she had no idea the station was even in the process of being sold when she accepted the job. Her beloved great-grandmother had just died, and this job was a great opportunity for her. She sure didn't know she had met the potential buyer when Pastor Landris visited her hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, earlier that year.
For Pastor Landris, everything seemed to be falling into place. Surely God was directing this move. But he would soon learn that things aren't always as they seem. What appears to be God's will one moment can end up looking totally different once things begin to unfold.
Pastor Landris would come to understand how Joseph the dreamer in the Bible must have felt. Joseph's father Jacob, later called Israel, loved him so much more than his other children that he made his beloved son the infamous coat of many colors. Joseph dreamed his family would end up bowing to him. He shared this dream with them-an announcement that didn't go over well with his brothers (or his father at first, for that matter).
"Shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?" Joseph's brothers and father wanted to know. Of course, they hated Joseph even more for his dreams and for daring to speak those dreams out loud.
Pastor George Edward Landris could definitely relate.
When Pastor Landris needed spiritual encouragement to get through the rough times-as he wrestled with feelings of rejection, being lied to and about-he would find comfort reading Genesis, chapters 37-50, to help him go on.
As with Joseph, Pastor Landris believed God had given him a dream. Somewhere Joseph must have believed God would bring it to pass or else he would have just quit. When Pastor Landris needed a Word to help him, he would think about all Joseph endured before his blessings finally came to pass. He reflected on how Joseph was put in a pit by his own brothers, who had originally planned to kill him. And had it not been for his other brothers, Reuben and Judah, Joseph and his dreams might well have perished.
But God had His hands of protection on Joseph, and Pastor Landris knew God's hand was also on him. Pastor Landris's own "preach-brothers" in the ministry were not so happy to see him come to their city. They pretended they were whenever he was around, even as they plotted to get rid of him.
Not to physically kill him, although Pastor Landris wasn't one hundred percent certain about that at times. But he did realize they wanted to assassinate him-and his dreams-in a spiritual sense.
No one had called Pastor Landris to come to Birmingham. Who could say if he would ever have a congregation again? That paralleled Joseph being thrown in prison. On the plus side, Pastor Landris did have his new family: a wonderful wife in Johnnie Mae, along with her three-year-old daughter, Princess Rose. And there was Thomas and Sapphire, who had followed him to Alabama to lend their assistance.
Things would surely have to get better.
However, Pastor Landris-as did Joseph-would quickly discover that that's not always the case.
* * *
Faith Alexandria Morrell didn't care about church anymore. She'd had more than her fill of "church folks." One thing she could never understand was how the church pastor, who constantly hammered other folk about what they should and shouldn't do, could end up doing that same wrong thing, get caught, and the church would just forgive him and keep him on. It made no sense to her.
"They're all only human. He's just a man," her friend Dominique told her. Faith was still living in New Orleans then. She had questioned why the congregation hadn't kicked their pastor out on his holier-than-thou, self-righteous tailbone after they caught him messing around with all those women in the church. "Who are we to judge?" Dominique said. "Only God can do that."
Faith still didn't get it. She had witnessed him deliver a few sermons from the pulpit, getting the church all emotional as he began to sing and moan. The next thing she knew, hats and shoes were flying all over the place; people's glasses were landing on the floor or in the pews behind them; men were yanking off suit coats, ties, and jackets and running around, shouting. The women were dancing, unconcerned whether things she didn't care to see or mention were showing as they jumped or fell down, their dresses, blouses, skirts in disarray. Faith wondered-how holy could this be?
Those who weren't shouting were running up to the pastor and laying paper money at his feet, which only seemed to make him whoop and holler more.
Faith just did ... not ... get it. People claimed it was the Holy Spirit that had caused them to act that way, but she knew from scripture that the spirit was subject unto the prophet. She wasn't a Bible scholar, but that much she did know. This was emotionalism, pure and simple. It was the way they chose to react or express the way they were feeling, which was fine as far as Faith was concerned. She just wished folk would call it what it was and quit acting like they were being uncontrollably possessed or something.
Then this same pastor was caught having affairs with not one, not two, but three ladies in his congregation at the same time. What was worse, his wife was the one who finally caught him on tape. When she brought her audio evidence before the congregation during one Sunday morning's service, proving he was with this one woman, that caused two other women to pop up mad and argue there was no way this could possibly be true, seeing as he was with "her" exclusively. Talk about angry. They didn't seem to mind that he was cheating on his wife, but it was a whole other matter when they learned he wasn't being so faithful to them, either.
The pastor confessed to his loyal congregation a week later. Faith happened to be there that Sunday by special invitation from Dominique. They had front-row seats. He delivered a passionate, tearful plea, begging for forgiveness. He claimed Satan had him bound, using his godly gift of loving others against him. Apparently, he loved all the people in his congregation so much, he couldn't bear to see any of them in pain.
The pastor claimed he hadn't meant to hurt anyone, especially his lovely wife, who, incidentally, was driving a brand, spanking-new Mercedes-Benz and sporting a three-carat diamond ring. But he was only a man and not God, he said, and he was not perfect, nor, coincidentally, was any of them sitting there. A few people behind Faith were whispering that one or two of those women just might have put some type of voodoo on him to cause him to behave that way. Faith didn't believe in voodoo.
Then the pastor closed with a classic line: "He who is among you without sin, let him cast the first stone." As he looked over the audience, he knew there wasn't a person there who hadn't done something wrong. Maybe not that week, and maybe not to the extent that he'd done, but they were all guilty of something. "And a sin is a sin is a sin. There are no big or little sins in God's sight," he said, looking repentant, then upward toward heaven.
His closing defense was: "God uses imperfect people to do His work." Yes, he had fallen, but no one had a right to judge him when everybody there was guilty of something themselves. "Amen?" he said, jumping up as he got more "in the spirit."
Excerpted from Blessed Trinity by VANESSA DAVIS GRIGGS Copyright © 2007 by Vanessa Davis Griggs. Excerpted by permission.
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