You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Whitaker House (April 5, 2011)
Vanessa Miller is a best-selling author, playwright, and motivational speaker. She started writing as a child, spending countless hours either reading or writing poetry, short stories, stage plays and novels. Vanessa’s creative endeavors took on new meaning in 1994 when she became a Christian. Since then, her writing has been centered on themes of redemption, often focusing on characters facing multi-dimensional struggles. Readers and critics alike have responded with overwhelming affirmation with her work topping several bestsellers lists and receiving numerous awards including “Best Christian Fiction Mahogany Award” and the “Red Rose Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction.” The first two books in her Second Chance at Love Series, Yesterday’s Promise and A Love for Tomorrow, debuted at #1 on the Black Christian News Network’s Bestsellers List.
Visit the author's website.
Since her husband’s death two years ago, Yvonne Milner has been serving as sole pastor of the church they pastored together, but she’s embroiled in a battle with the church board who wants to fire her. Just before a pivotal meeting, her husband’s former best friend Thomas Reed, a handsome and world-renowned motivational speaker, steps back into her life. Thomas is a widower and understands the pain she’s going through on many levels. When a different kind of threat targets both the church and her daughter, Yvonne turns to Thomas and long-buried emotions arise between them. Yvonne is hesitant to get involved, not wanting to break her promise to her husband to love him forever
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (April 5, 2011)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
On days like this, Yvonne Milner wondered why she even bothered to pray. She had yelled, screamed, begged, and cajoled, yet the doctors still couldn’t make eye contact with her when they came into her husband’s hospital room. There were no more talks of surgery or chemotherapy. They’d told her that nothing more could be done for David. But, as far as Yvonne was concerned, the doctors didn’t know diddly. David Milner was the senior pastor of one of the most notable churches in Detroit. He was the father of two beautiful daughters, and he was her beloved husband. So, she wasn’t just going to throw in the towel and believe the doctors’ doom-and-gloom predictions. She and David had been married for thirty-four years, and he had promised her a fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. “We’ve got sixteen more years to go, David,” she urged him. “Don’t give up now.”
A vicious cough shook his fragile, cancer-racked body as he attempted to sit up in his hospital bed.
“Don’t, sweetheart. Just lie down.”
“No…I need…to tell you…something.” David labored to get each word out.
It was killing Yvonne to see her husband weak and bedridden like this. He had always been so strong, had always been her hero. She had admired this man, even when they hadn’t seen eye-to-eye about her role in the ministry. Early in their marriage, Yvonne had known that she was destined to preach the gospel. However, David wouldn’t hear of it. They had fought, and Yvonne had prayed for years that God would change her husband’s mind. Finally, David had accepted the fact that his wife had been called by God to be a preacher. Yet, even through those tough years, Yvonne couldn’t have imagined being anywhere else but with the man she loved. “You can say what you need to while lying down, honey. You need your strength to get better.”
David shook his head. “I’m going home, baby.”
“I know that, David. You just need to regain your strength so they will let you out of this hospital.”
He shook his head again and then pointed heavenward. “Home…with Jesus.”
Yvonne’s eyes filled with tears. “Don’t say that, David. You and I have a lot more living to do.”
He patted her hand. “Call Thomas.”
Thomas Reed was David’s best friend. The man traveled the world building churches and ministering to God’s people. He’d recently lost his wife to the same evil disease that was threatening to take David’s life. “Call Thomas right now? Why? What do you want me to tell him?”
“If you need help, call Thomas. He promised me—” A coughing fit cut him off.
Yvonne took the cup from David’s bedside table and filled it with water from the pitcher, then held the glass to his lips for him to drink once the coughing subsided. “Here, baby, drink this.” When he had taken a few sips, she said, “Now, just lie here and rest. Our girls will be here soon, and you need to save your energy for them.” Toya, twenty-nine years old, was their firstborn, a self-assured attorney with political aspirations. Tia was their twenty-six-year-old “baby.” Whereas Toya was analytical and ambitious, Tia’s strength was creativity, yet she was introspective and reserved. She could paint and write poetry from sunup till sundown and be perfectly at peace.
It had been difficult for Yvonne to manage her daughters’ very different personalities while raising them, but David had convinced her to relax and let God work out His perfect plan for each girl’s life. If it hadn’t been for David’s wisdom and prayers, Yvonne was sure that she would have broken Tia’s spirit. She had needed more time than David to understand their daughter’s passion for writing and painting. What was she going to do if he didn’t survive this illness?
No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than Yvonne tried to banish it. But that was also the moment when she noticed that David’s breathing sounded funny. And then she understood why none of the medical professionals who had come into the room today had been able to look her in the eye. They had heard it, too—the death rattle.
“No, baby, no—don’t leave me!” she begged him.
“Remember…Thomas promised…love you.”
Tears were running down Yvonne’s face as she heard her husband’s last words. She put her arms around the man she had loved for a lifetime—and yet not long enough—and whispered, “I love you, too, baby. Always and forever.”
Eighteen months later
Yvonne Milner collapsed into her office chair and heaved a sigh. Pastoring Christ-Life Sanctuary by herself was far from easy, and it seemed that her situation was only getting worse. For years, the church had grown and thrived, even reaching megachurch status with more than five thousand members. But since David’s death, two thousand of their “You can count on me” members had left the ministry. The head elder, Ron Thompson, had broken away to start his own ministry, taking another two hundred church members with him. Tithing was down, charity fund expenditures were up, and Yvonne knew that the church’s board of directors blamed it all on her.
Several of the board members had challenged her authority to her face and as good as said that they wouldn’t be having those problems if David were still around or if their senior pastor wasn’t a woman. Yvonne acknowledged that some people could not accept having a female in the highest position of church leadership, but she also knew that not all twenty-two hundred members had left for that reason.
Sighing again, she stood up and stepped over to the bay window to gaze out at the new Family Life Center—or, rather, what was supposed to be the new Family Life Center, the final phase of their latest building project. The Family Life Center had been Yvonne’s vision. After the sanctuary had been expanded to make room for their growing congregation, Yvonne had convinced David that they still needed to do more. She envisioned a brand-new facility that would provide space for recreational activities, especially for the children and young adults, as well as a café and a bookstore. In addition, she intended for one of the rooms to be set up theater-style, with tiered seats and a movie screen, where they could organize movie nights or perform stage plays.
Five years ago, when Yvonne and David had first proposed the building project to the board, they had developed a financial plan based on the church’s finances and projected that they would have more than enough funds to cover each phase of the project. But Yvonne hadn’t foreseen the death of her husband or the annihilation of Detroit’s economy. How could she have known that General Motors and Chrysler would go crying to the government for a bail-out and then lay off thousands upon thousands of workers, many of whom attended church at Christ-Life Sanctuary?
Now Yvonne was stuck staring at a half finished Family Life Center, as it would probably remain. After all, the coffers were empty. She really couldn’t blame the board of directors for asking for her resignation. When her husband was alive, Yvonne stood side by side with him as they built this church from the ground up. She had installed three of their seven board members herself. And she knew that God wasn’t finished with her yet. The work He had begun in her—and in the church through her ministry—was far from over, and she would be dead and buried before anyone took her out of the pulpit permanently. She just needed a plan, needed to pray about knowing the right things to say at the board meeting tomorrow in order to convince the members to give her more time to turn things around.
A knock at her door drew Yvonne’s eyes away from the window. She turned toward the door. “Come in.”
The door opened, and in walked Thomas Reed. Actually, he didn’t walk; he swaggered like a man who had the keys to the kingdom. If she hadn’t known Thomas for almost thirty years, Yvonne would have thought he swaggered so confidently because he was a millionaire several times over. But Thomas had strutted like that even when he had been as poor as a man carrying a “Will work for food” sign.
Thomas had a way about him that caused men and women to stop and stare. He was one of those fine, chocolate, Denzel-Washington-types of brothers, with wavy black hair and heavenly hazel eyes.
David had met Thomas thirty years ago in seminary and had joked about marrying Yvonne to keep her away from pretty boys like Thomas so that he didn’t have to worry about her running off. But David never had reason to worry; he had always been her prince, and she’d never wanted anyone but him.
When Thomas got married, David became less worried about his friend’s captivating charm. The four of them—David and Yvonne, Thomas and Brenda—had settled into their own ministries yet maintained a lasting friendship. David and Yvonne opened Christ-Life Sanctuary a year after David graduated from seminary, and the church had thrived from its inception. Thomas, on the other hand, was forced to close the doors to his church after struggling for five years to make a go of it. He hadn’t let that stop him, though. Thomas became a Christ-centered motivational speaker and took his ministry on the road. He now pulled in fifty thousand dollars per speaking engagement and had written nearly a dozen New York Times best-selling books.
“Thomas!” Yvonne gave him a hug and stepped back to admire his suit. “Look at you, dapper as ever on this hot summer day.”
“You don’t look so bad, yourself,” he said with a grin.
“I can’t believe you came all this way.”
“I wouldn’t miss this board meeting for anything in the world. And besides, I have a promise to make good on.”
Just before David died, he had told Yvonne to call Thomas if ever she needed help. She’d seen Thomas at the funeral, where he had asked if she needed anything. No, she’d said, and for eighteen months, she hadn’t bothered her husband’s best friend for assistance, even though he’d called her from time to time to check in. But today, she was finally calling in a favor. Thomas had been installed as a board member of Christ-Life Sanctuary about ten years ago but rarely showed up for meetings. The board had always been in accord with David, so he’d never needed to rely on his friend for a tie-breaking vote.
Yvonne had no such luck, and so she’d asked for Thomas’s help on this vote. Yet she hadn’t expected him to make an appearance—not when he could have simply phoned in with his vote.
“Please, sit down,” Yvonne said, gesturing to the couch. “Before we talk about church business, I want to know how you’ve been doing.” It had been months since they’d caught up, and she was eager to hear about his speaking ministry and his family.
Thomas unbuttoned his suit jacket and sat down on the couch next to Yvonne. “So, what do you want to know?”
“For starters, you haven’t been traveling as much lately. Has the world received all the motivation it needs?”
Thomas laughed. “I’m still getting more speaking engagements than I can accept, but I guess I’ve kind of lost my wanderlust.”
Yvonne knew that for years, Brenda had asked Thomas to spend less time on the road and more time at home. It seemed strange that now, more than two years after Brenda’s death, he was finally willing to limit his travels. “What brought this on?” she asked.
“Since Brenda died, I’ve spent a lot of time putting things into perspective. I want to spend some time reconnecting with my son, which is going to be hard since he has his own career now.”
Yvonne understood exactly where Thomas was coming from. She and David had spent many years on the preaching circuit, and then, one day, they looked up and saw that Toya and Tia were grown. She wished she could take credit for the woman Toya had become, and she definitely wished that she had spent more time helping Tia mature. If life didn’t turn out right for Tia, Yvonne knew she’d be tempted to blame herself. “I should have spent more time with my girls as they were growing up, too.” She slapped her hand against her thigh as she sat up a bit straighter. “But, hey, I figure I’ll get a second chance when they give me some grandchildren.”
“Speak for yourself, Granny,” Thomas said, nudging her arm. “I’m not trying to become a poppa for at least another five years. We didn’t have Jarrod until I was thirty, so I figure he can at least return the favor and not have his first kid until he’s at least thirty, maybe even thirty-five.”
Yvonne chuckled, then laughed outright, so hard that she doubled over. When she finally regained composure, she sat up again and wiped the tears from her eyes. “Okay, maybe I don’t want to be a granny so soon, either.”
“You certainly don’t look like any granny I know. I mean, look at you. You’re fifty-two, but you don’t look a day over forty.”
Yvonne had been told that her looks were what Olay would want to advertise its facial products. Fifty was definitely the new forty where she was concerned. With her long, coal-black hair, light skin, and eyes that sparkled and danced, she could have passed for a relative of Lena Horne. “We’ve known each other entirely too long. There’s no way you should know my real age.”
Thomas lifted his hands in surrender. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take your secrets to the grave with me.”
Yvonne felt her droll mood depart. “I don’t want to hear anything about you going to your grave.”
Thomas put an arm around Yvonne’s shoulder and gave her a squeeze. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”
With his arm still wrapped around her, Yvonne took a deep breath to steady her nerves. She had seen two deaths too many in the past two years, and she didn’t know if she could make it through funeral number three so soon. With David and Brenda gone, Yvonne felt that she should have fulfilled her quota of homegoings for a lifetime. “Don’t say stuff like that. I don’t consider it funny.”
“Again, I’m sorry,” Thomas said as he stood up. “Are you ready for the meeting tomorrow morning?”
Yvonne shook her head and leaned back in the couch. “I’ve been in ministry for thirty years, copastored Christ-Life for twenty, and now some board that my husband and I formed wants to vote me out. I don’t know how to get ready for something like that.”
“But I’m here to cast my vote in favor of you staying senior pastor of Christ-Life,” Thomas reminded her. “And I believe several others will vote in your favor, also.”
Yvonne pushed herself to her feet and planted a kiss on Thomas’s cheek. “God love you for what you’re doing, Thomas. But I don’t know how much good it’s going to do. If Deacon Brown has his way, I might need to take on a few of those speaking engagements you’ve cancelled.”
“Don’t worry,” Thomas said. “This meeting is in the Lord’s hands. He knows that you’re meant to pastor this church, and I plan to do everything in my power to make the other board members realize that.”