Monthly Archives: October 2012

A New Novel? Why Not? (Part 7)

Chapter 2

Nineteen years later

(continued)

 

Two hours later, I locked up the office and walked past my secretary’s desk. She had already left for the evening, not bothering to tell me because of my “do not disturb” orders. The digital clock hanging above her computer showed 6:45 PM in a bright red glow.

Just enough time to make it to Jamie’s place, I thought.

As I drove the black Mercedes southeast on Broadway, I rehearsed in my mind various approaches I could use with Jamie. Each line of attack left something to be desired because my angel experience seemed so far out, almost too mystical for a preacher like me. I finally decided to play it by ear, hoping love truly bears all things.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I found a parking place just a block south of Jamie’s cedar-shingled condo. Vanderbilt University’s students usually consumed all of the parking spots along her street, causing them to be a rare find. But in spite of the inconveniences, Jamie loved the college atmosphere and considered the parking problems a necessary trade-off. I personally hated the parking nuisance so much that the two story townhouse had become a disagreement between us as to what to do with it after our marriage. She wanted to keep it whereas I wanted to sell it. We finally agreed to seek the Lord and pray about it. The answer had not yet manifested itself.

I knocked on the door and heard her muffled voice.

“Come in honey, the door’s unlocked. I’m in the kitchen.”

The first sense to kick in when I entered the foyer was smell. Her Chanel No. 5 always reminded me of the sexy reply Marilyn Monroe gave to the question of what she wore to bed at night: “Five drops of No. 5.”

Then, another smell strummed my olfactory receptors: fresh baked chocolate chip cookies – my favorite dessert. The aroma increased as I walked on the hardwood floors through the living room and into the kitchen where Jamie bent over the oven, removing a tray of cookies.

“I thought you might need some nourishment later tonight,” she said with a wink, setting the tray on the stove top.

She removed her cooking mitt and stepped toward me. Her yellow and white striped sundress provided a perfect contrast to the stainless steel appliances, white cabinets, and black granite countertops in the L-shaped kitchen. Her left hand caressed my cheek at the same time she snuggled close to me. We hugged and kissed, no longer trying to follow in Billy’s and Ruth’s courting footsteps.

“Sugar, wait till you hear the latest wedding details,” she whispered as she broke away. “It’s so exciting.”

“Okay, what?” I said, grabbing a hot cookie.

“Sweetheart, don’t. That’s too hot.”

Paying no attention to her warning, I stuffed the whole cookie into my mouth. I immediately blew out a deep breath while holding my mouth open.

“See, I told you,” she said with a laugh. Then, she wrinkled her nose and pointed at me. “Luke, why aren’t you dressed up? We’re going to the concert, aren’t we?”

I looked down at my khakis and old tennis shoes. In the excitement, I forgot about the Johnny Cash concert at the Ryman Auditorium and the two third row tickets in my wallet.

“I forgot – ”

“Sugar, you forgot?” she said. Her eyebrows formed twin question marks seeking an explanation.

I sighed and removed my cap, holding it in my hand.

“I had an unexpected visitor today.”

Next, I told her the whole account of the angel’s visit. When I finished, I put my cap back on and looked at her.

“Honey, what do you think?”

Jamie was not a championship caliber Texas Hold’em card player. Her face revealed her skepticism.

“Sugar,” she whispered, “it’s not so much what I think, but rather, what do you think? And what do you plan on doing?”

Her words hung in the air like the stench of cordite after the firing of a Winchester rifle.

“I plan on obeying the angel’s words.”

“Just like that! You going to throw your whole ministry away. How can you do that? And what about me? Don’t I have a say in this decision, too?”

“Of course, you do – ”

“It doesn’t sound like it to me!”

I nodded that I understood her point.

“Jamie, I love you. I know this is tough, but we can work through it with the Lord’s help.”

Jamie’s head swayed side to side as she meditated on my spoken words and the unspoken ones.

“Luke, let’s skip the concert and sleep on this. It’s too much for me to handle right now. Why don’t you stop by in the morning, say around 9:30? We can have a quiet breakfast together and discuss everything.”

Her eyes begged me to agree with her. What could I do? I leaned over and lightly kissed her on the cheek.

“See you in the morning, honey, I love you,” I whispered.

I turned and walked out, closing the door quietly behind me.

(The above is the fourth part of  Chapter 2 for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)

(Continued in Part 8)

6 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Writing

A New Novel? Why Not? (Part 6)

 

 

Chapter 2

Nineteen years later

“What answer shall I give the Lord?”

“Do you have any idea how horrible this is? How much it hurts? Does the Lord realize the enormous problems this may cause my church, Jamie, and our families?”

“The Lord’s grace is sufficient for you. You gave a promise when you were ten years old, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but – ”

“But what? Was your promise conditional?”

The angel backed me into a corner with his pointed questions. There was nothing I could do but surrender.

“My promise was unconditional. It’s just that, it’s just that…”

Drops of cold sweat trickled down my rib cage from my armpits. I felt trapped. I felt pressured. I felt fear. But I knew that sitting on the fence was not an option with the angel. A decision had to be made.

“Okay, okay,” I whispered, blowing out a deep breath. “I’ll keep my promise. I’ll obey His commands.”

The angel stared at me. His eyes pierced a hole through my protective outer coating into my vulnerable inner being. I felt naked before him.

“Today is the beginning of the cross’s deeper work in your life,” whispered the angel. “Because you have chosen to follow the Lord, you will lose everything you have considered valuable up till now. Everything. It will eventually be worth it, but for a long time, you will know only rejection, pain, and tears.”

The angel turned and left.

Like a drowning man who watched his life pass before him, a collage of images drifted through my mind on a circular loop. My ministry. My books. My idol: the new church building. My goals. My attitudes. Though I professed Jesus was Lord of my life, the flashbacks revealed a much different story.

The graphic imagery sickened me. Is this really who I am? I thought.

Shame gripped my throat so that breathing became a problem. I gulped for air and opened my eyes wide to my surroundings. When I did, it seemed like I saw my office for the first time. It was a Taj Mahal dedicated to Rev. Luke Stoner.

The cherry wainscoting and matching shelves had been my idea. I saw them in a picture of an English country manor and had a skilled craftsman reproduce them for my office. The cost: fifteen thousand dollars. My executive desk, which came from Cambridge, England, was almost two hundred years old and valued at twenty thousand dollars. Currier & Ives prints hung next to pictures of me signing books for movie stars and athletes. The full remodeling and room decoration cost a little over fifty thousand dollars. At the time, I thought, it was worth it. After all, I was the royal son of a wealthy King.

But now, when I viewed the room, it appeared artificial and showy, like Las Vegas neon signs flashing at Christmas. I hated what I saw and who I had become.

“Am I no better than Judas,” I whispered. “Did I sell out my calling for thirty pieces of silver?”

I fell on my knees and wept. The ministry I had worked so hard to put together seemed vulgar and crude. Although I appeared successful to others, I stood as a wretched failure before the Judge.

(The above is the third part of  Chapter 2 for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)

(Continued in Part 7)

4 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Writing

A New Novel? Why Not? (Part 5)

Chapter 2

Nineteen years later

In the midst of my reverie, a slight rustle stirred behind me. Someone stood in front of my paper covered desk. I shrugged my shoulders, but did not turn around.

“Sorry, but I’m tied up right now. You’ll have to talk with my secretary, Connie. She should be at her desk just outside my office,” I said, pointing with my left hand to the door, not looking over my shoulder.

I resumed typing, even though no sounds of movement occurred behind me.

Three minutes passed with an awkward silence echoing off the walls of the office. I finally threw my hands up in disgust, pivoted around in my chair, and said, “Okay, what do you – ”

The rest of my sentence withered away into nothingness.

There, in front of the walnut desk, stood an enormous angel with black shiny hair. A loose white robe covered him from his elbows to knees, but it did little to hide his muscular build which reminded me of a celestial Andre the giant. But unlike Andre, a holy presence radiated from the heavenly visitor. Although the angel’s face appeared peaceful, a combat readiness radiated from him.

Still, the angel did not speak.

I felt flustered and wondered about the proper etiquette for greeting a heavenly emissary.

“What do you want?” I eventually spit out.

“I have a message for you from the Lord,” said the angel in a crisp staccato cadence without any discernible accent.

“What… what is it?”

The angel’s emerald eyes stared into mine.

“The Lord says that you need to resign from the American church beauty pageant. The pretentious church system you have so enthusiastically flaunted is only beautiful to men, and not to the Lord Jesus. He loves another church which is considered ugly to most men,” said the angel. Then he paused a beat before adding, “What response should I give to the Lord?”

If the ceiling had collapsed upon me, I would have ignored it. The angel’s words rendered me speechless with their authority and power. Like most Christians, I had followed the traditional path for believers with a preacher’s calling on their lives. I attended a respected Bible school, was ordained, started a church, and now was the senior pastor of it. I seemed successful, anointed, and was engaged to a godly woman. And now this?

“Pl-please wait a moment,” I whispered. “Would it be okay to ask some questions?”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“Why would the Lord ask me to make such drastic changes now, in the midst of my most productive years?”

“Because there is still time to deprogram you and prepare you for the future.”

The angel’s blazing eyes forced me to look away. My hand automatically moved to my cap, adjusting its position. Why me? I thought. Why not someone else?

But even in the midst of my discomfort, I somehow remembered several Christian pioneers who suffered similar heart wrenching setbacks. The early church referred to those experiences as limps, much like the limp Jacob incurred after wrestling with God at Peniel.

“What does the Lord want me to do?” I asked without looking at the angel.

“Resign your pastor’s position from the church, move to Los Angeles, and become a car salesman.”

I gasped, but no words came out of my mouth.

The heavenly visitor paid no attention to my anguish and seemed totally detached from the whole scene.

“What answer shall I give the Lord?”

(The above is the second part of  Chapter 2 for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)

(Continued in Part 6)

8 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Writing

A New Novel? Why Not? (Part 4)

Chapter 2

Nineteen years later

The sunshine irked me. It reminded me of what I was missing: a Friday afternoon golf outing with three friends. But my schedule of writing fifteen hundred words per day had not been fulfilled by noontime so I canceled my tee-off time.

If only the book’s publishing deadline could be extended one more time, I thought. Yet that’s not happening because it has already been extended twice and the publisher said the manuscript had to be completed by July 24th or else.

The or else loomed as a major problem because the royalty advance money had long since been spent.

My first book, 100Fold Churches, sank deep roots into the New York Times Best Seller list and stayed put for ten weeks. The publisher hoped for another block buster with my sequel and planned on printing twenty-five thousand copies for the first press run. To back up the publisher’s aspirations, the editor and my agent called me daily, reminding me of their financial outlays. The calls only added more steam to my internal boiler, as if I needed more, because two other projects provided more than enough pressure for me.

I stopped typing and removed my glasses. The new tortoise shell frames were too tight. I bent the temples a small fraction and placed them back on my slightly bent nose, the result of a football mishap. Shaking my head slightly, the glasses stayed in place.

But then, I gazed out the office window at Rock on the River Fellowship’s three million dollar building project, which also lagged behind schedule. A harsh winter, heavy spring rains, and architectural changes delayed the sixteen thousand square foot sanctuary from its anticipated completion date of August 1st to – maybe Thanksgiving. The gray concrete shell still lacked brick and roof.

Sadly, the construction delays had no effect on the construction loans and mortgages. Those marched forward to their own steady drum beats and cost the church twelve thousand dollars per month. All of which came out of offerings received from the membership. Each month, I held my breath until the bills were finally paid, and then, it began anew the following thirty days.

Fear cowers, but faith acts, I thought.

Okay, I thought, it’s time to get back to writing.

I turned back to the computer monitor and the reason for my being closeted away from the outside world: the book. Even my casual attire of khakis and orange golf shirt reflected my off-duty status. As senior pastor, I felt obligated to wear suits and dress shirts five days a week, with Saturday being business casual and Monday an off day. The faded orange University of Tennessee cap with a well-shaped bill resting atop my head was an accessory for no other reason than – just because.

Meditating on the next sentence, I drifted again by looking over at the mahogany picture frame, sitting on the corner of my desk. The smiling face shifted my thoughts onto another detour.

Jamie Newhart hosted a Christian talk show, “Good News in the Southland.” The syndicated television program originated in Nashville and was carried on more than forty stations throughout the southern states. A former Miss Georgia, Jamie had creamy skin and the type of flawless beauty which television loved to flaunt. Her pictures appeared on billboards and magazine covers throughout the Bible Belt.

Yet, Jamie and I did not meet through Christian activities, but instead, it happened late one evening at a Walmart in Nashville. She needed toothpaste and I needed razor blades. Both of us dashed to the department store without thinking about our garb. She wore a baggy sweatshirt and pink flip flops. I had on paint-smeared jeans and a ripped blue tee-shirt.

As we stood in line, a young boy bumped into Jamie, knocking the tube of toothpaste out of her hands. I stooped over, picked up the tube, and handed it to her.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

I nodded without saying a word in reply.

In the thank you and the nod, we somehow noticed each other.

Later, Jamie explained to a friend about the electricity of that moment.

“Sugar, when I looked into those big puppy-dog blue eyes of his, I thought I was going to die. He’s a doll, an absolute doll. I fell head over heels in love with him and his dirty blond curly hair, right then and there at Walmart. I could just love him to death.”

The moment did not escape me either. I wandered through the parking lot looking for my Mercedes without remembering where I parked it. All I could focus on was Jamie’s face, her southern accent, and the smell of her perfume. When I finally located my car, I drove out of the parking lot without thinking what I was doing. I crossed the Cumberland River into Kentucky before realizing I missed my exit seven miles earlier.

A phone call to a television friend the next morning located her phone number. I called and asked her to go to a Gatlin Brothers concert at the Nashville Coliseum. I held my breath until she agreed.

The Gatlin brothers were my favorite singers, but I do not remember a song they sang. Fast Eddie’s Bar-B-Que was my favorite restaurant, but I do not know if I ate one bite of my pulled pork sandwich. Jamie’s presence demolished my concentration that night.

The one thing I do remember from our first date was my exit scene at the door to her condo. I leaned over to give her a kiss and she ducked out of the way.

“Why, Luke Stoner, don’t you know that Billy and Ruth Graham didn’t kiss until they were married?” she said with one eye closed and the opposite dark blond eyebrow tilted upward.

“Billy’s one of them North Carolina boys. We Tennessee boys are a little quicker on the draw than that,” I whispered through a smile.

She returned my smile, but held out until the third date before kissing me.

Jamie and I enjoyed the same music. The same books. The same movies. The same restaurants. Both of us were hard working, career oriented Christians who enjoyed an occasional laugh, but for the most part, we were serious believers.

Three months after our first date, I asked Jamie to marry me and she said, “Yes.” We eventually planned on a Christmas wedding at Rock on the River Fellowship.

This has been an awesome year, I thought. I’m about to marry the most beautiful and most wonderful woman in the whole world. How much better can it get than this? Lord, You have blessed me.

(The above is the first part of the second chapter for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)

(Continued in Part 5)

2 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Writing