We're making a huge mistake. I just know it.
Stephanie sanders London stood with her husband, Lindell, in front of family and friends in the activity center at living Word church, heart palpitatingor constricting. Or whatever word fit the slow but sure panic that had threatened all evening to overtake her and was about to make good on the promise.
Lindell, on the other hand, had an odd glow.
"I'm still so overwhelmed by your support," he was saying. "I never expected this." he paused, visibly moved.
Their pastor had asked them to say a few words to the crowd who had come to say good-bye. Stephanie had spoken first, which hastened the onset of whatever this was. She couldn't even remember what she'd said after acknowledging that they were leaving.
Lindell continued, "I became a doctor because I wanted to help people. But candidly, I was also drawn to the lifestyle it would afford. I never thought that one day the lifestyle wouldn't matter and medicine would become ministry. But a one-month trip to Haiti earlier this year changed my life. And now, because of you, I can alternate between practicing in the states and returning to Haiti on a regular basis. I can't thank you enough."
He turned to Stephanie to see if she had anything more to add. She looked out at her parents, Bruce and Claudia sanders. Bruce had been surprised and moved that Stephanie had grown so close to his side of the family and would be planting herself in his Hope Springs roots. But he'd let her know how much he'd miss her. Looking at them now, it struck her that they might never live in the same city again. Her parents might never be a regular part of her life or her future children's lives. She shook her head at Lindell. If she opened her mouth now, the only thing she'd add would be a retraction of all their plans.
Lindell wrapped up. "This will always be home. You might not see us every week in the first service, fourth pew from the front, left side"he chuckled with the rest"but you'd better believe we'll be there in spirit. We love you, and we'll miss you."
Stephanie nodded her agreement as applause rang throughout the room. They walked down the steps of the riser, and Stephanie searched immediately for her older sister, Cyd.
They turned to see who was calling.
"You don't know me," a young woman said. "I'm new to living Word, but when I saw the announcement Sunday at church, I wanted to come tonight. And I'm glad I did!" she regarded Lindell. "I'm in med school at Wash U and was so inspired by what you shared. It's radical, really, when you think about making a total life shift ..."
Alarm bells went off in Stephanie's head. The only "radical" moves she'd ever made were things like wearing a dress with too much cleavage showing at her wedding rehearsal ... which she only knew was radical by the feedback. Following-God radical was different. harder. She needed baby steps. She needed her sister.
"Excuse me." Stephanie was glad Lindell had taken up the response. "I need to find someone, but it was nice to meet you." she spotted Cyd a few feet over with her best friend, Dana.
Stephanie tugged Cyd's arm. "Emergency. Now. For real."
Cyd was laughing, barely holding on to her rambunctious one-year-old, chase. "I know! he's been in the dip, the punch, just got a fistful of cookies ..." she rubbed noses with him as he giggled. "Why did I ever encourage you to walk?"
Dana pinched his cheek. "Auntie Dana understands, little man. You're just trying to have a good"
"Uh, hello?" Stephanie waved her hands at them both. "Does emergency mean anything to you two?" she gaped at her sister. "As in, I desperately need to talk to you?"
Cyd gave her the momma lookwhich she'd always done, but now that she really was a momma, it had more umph. Thirteen years older, she'd actually always been like a second momma. "Steph, it's not an emergency."
"It is an emergency."
"I know what it's about."
Chase spied his dad across the room and lunged forward in Cyd's arms. "Da-da. Da-da."
Stephanie latched onto her nephew's hand. "You're just a little cutie, you know that? Auntie Stephy loves you." chase was her soft spot, and she wouldn't be seeing him either, which brought her back to her angst. She looked at Cyd. "You do not know what it's about."
Dana laughed, wresting chase from Cyd. "how about this? I'll take chase to his da-da, and you go with Steph. In no time, you'll be wishing she was still here in St. Louis bombarding you with emergencies."
"I know, right?" Stephanie said.
Cyd gave them both a look.
The sisters walked out of the activity center. "Okay, what's the emergency?" Cyd said.
"I need to know if I'm crazy for going through with this move."
"I knew it." Cyd stopped in the hallway outside the center. "Yes. You are. Crazy for asking the same question week after week."
"No, it's really hitting me right now." Stephanie smiled at a couple just arriving. She lowered her voice. "I think we're making a mistake."
"Because." Stephanie pulled her farther down the hall. "Lindell and I are leaving st. Louis where i've lived all my lifenot to move to chicago or Dc or someplace else that makes sense, but to Hope Springs. I mean, when I say it I sound crazy. Why would I move to a little country town in North Carolina? Who does that?"
"You're doing it. Tomorrow."
"That's not funny."
"And Janelle did it last month when she moved from DC," Cyd said.
"Yeah, but she's got an excuse for her crazy. She's in love."
Stephanie and her cousin Janelle had cared for their ailing grandmother in hope springs earlier in the year while Lindell was in Haiti. Stephanie had been excited that God put it on both her and her cousin's hearts to relocate there. She'd also been excited that they'd be near another cousin, Libby, who lived in Raleigh. But now ...
"Ever since Grandma Geri's funeral," Cyd said, "you and Lindell felt like God wanted you to do something different. You prayed and asked everybody and their momma to pray, even Pastor Lyles, which I've never seen you do." Cyd had moved from momma to exhortation mode. "And you both felt this was your answer. I understand the cold feet, but I just know God is leading you. Even if it feels crazy."
"It's more than cold feet. My heart is so out of rhythm, it might be a warning. What if we move to hope springs, and that's not what God was saying? That would be tragic."
Cyd almost laughed. "oh, stop it. You had a great time down there."
"The two months I spent there were great, because I got to know Grandma, Janelle, Libby, and other family. Living there is another story. We've got more people in our church than they've got in the town." she started pacing. "I can't believe I told Lindell to do that fleece thing."
"I meant to ask where you got that idea," Cyd said.
Stephanie paused with pursed lips. "Where do you think I got it? Bible study."
"What Bible study?"
"My personal Bible study."
"Really?" Cyd smiled. She'd been encouraging Stephanie to study her Bible for years. "I didn't know you were doing that."
"Well, don't get happy. I didn't think the fleece thing would work."
"And not just 'work,'" Cyd said. "It was more than Lindell could've hoped."
Lindell had said chances were slim that he'd find something near hope springs since so many medical practices were downsizing or closing. But Stephanie suggested the "fleece" of contacting Dr. Richardson, a doctor in the little town who'd cared for many in her family. One call led to another, which ultimately led to an interview and an offer for Lindell to join a practice in nearby rocky mount. But they could only accommodate him part-timewhich turned out to be perfect. Their church family at living Word was making it possible for him to travel to Haiti one week per month as a medical missionary.
Stephanie sighed. "I just don't know why we took that as the sign we should go. Maybe it was meant to show us what's possible here. surely there's a practice in St. Louis that would allow him to work a part-time schedule and travel to Haiti." she threw up her hands. "But noooo, we ran with it before we had any idea what I would be doing in hope springs." she gave her sister a pointed look. "Why did you let me do that?"
"Why did I ...? You're the one who said it seemed clear."
"But you should've told me to wait until all the pieces were in place. I don't have a job yet, and we're moving tomorrow."
"Steph, you don't have a job here, you haven't in years." Cyd's eyes softened. "What's the real issue? The small town, lack of a job ... Or something else?"
Stephanie took a long breath and thought on it a moment. "This has been my safety net all my life ... this church, my family, you. If I don't know the answerwhich is most of the timeyou're the first person I run to, no offense to Lindell." Tears slid down her face. "I don't want to live hundreds of miles from all of you. I need you."
Cyd took her into her arms. "I'm so proud of you."
"Why?" she sniffed on Cyd's shoulder. "for being a first-class coward?"
Cyd took a step back and looked her in the eye. "I've watched my little sister go from a self-centered, overconfident, impetuous brat"
Stephanie rolled her teary eyes.
"sorry, but you wereto a reflective, prayerful woman who wants to follow God, whatever it might mean. It seems crazy, you're scared, you have no idea what you'll be doing down therebut you and I both know you're still going."
Stephanie pouted. "can't y'all just move there too? We can make room in Grandma Geri's house."
Cyd laughed softly. "It'll be hard enough trying to find room in Grandma's house for a few days this week." her phone was ringing, and she pulled her purse off her shoulder and fished around to find it. "I'm so glad you scheduled the move the same week as the family reunion. We get to road-trip with you all, help you get settled, and hang out a few days with family. It'll be fun."
"Yeah ... until I have to say another round of good-byes Monday morning." Stephanie gave a forlorn sigh.
"Oops." Cyd stared at her phone. "missed call from Libby."
Stephanie's phone rang in her hand. "Now she's calling me. No need to wonder what it's about."
Cousin Libby, an event planner, had agreed to take over the planning of the sanders family reunion, which for years had been handled by their parents' generation. The closer they got to the reunion, the more they'd heard from her. And it was always urgent.
Cyd nodded. "Libby might be the only one with more 'emergencies' than you right now."
Stephanie answered. "What's up, Lib?"
"Why is your team the only one who has yet to post pictures on the reunion site? I hope you know Team Bruce is in last place."
Stephanie gasped. "Last place? I'd better not tell Dad. He'll never live it down if he doesn't winwait, what's this again? Survivor or The Amazing Race?"
"See, that's why I didn't want to do this. I knew people wouldn't take it seriously," Libby said. "I work hard to come up with fun new ideas to get people involved, and all I get is grief."
The Sanders family reunion was huge, with dozens of relatives beyond the offspring of Grandma Geri and Grandpa Elwood sanders. But Libby had cooked up a team concept just for their branch of the tree to encourage participation. Stephanie's dad, Bruce, was the oldest of Grandma Geri's five offspring.
"Oh, ease up on the violins." Stephanie was smiling. "You know I'm one of the ones who talked you into doing this. Would've posted pictures, but mine are all packed up."
Cyd took the phone. "mine are by the computer, ready to scan before we leave town tomorrow. Even got Dad to give me pics from when he was little. That's more points, right?"
"Team Bruce trying to come from the rear!" Libby exclaimed.
Stephanie was listening and grabbed the phone back. "Team Bruce not only coming from the rear but about to pass your team, especially when we get points for the basketball game. Both our husbands are playing." she cleared her throat. "No need to point out the obvious, but since you don't have a brother or a husbandand Uncle Wood's probably not playingyou'll get zero points for that one."
"Wrong." Libby sang it. "rules stipulate we can recruit team members for events, and Team Wood will have a b-ball player."
"Ooooh." Stephanie's eyebrows rose. "I won't even dispute this so-called rule you came up with. I just want to know what's up with Travis on Team Libby."
"He's on Team Wood, not Team Libby. And nothing's up with that. I asked him and he said yes."
"Mm-hm," Stephanie said. "I see I've got a lot to catch up on. The picture's looking a little different from when I was down there."
"Okay, well, gotta make some more calls."
"You can run but you can't hide."
Libby laughed. "When do y'all get here?"
"Loading up and hitting the road tomorrow. We'll stop somewhere overnight. Probably get to hope springs late Thursday morning."
"The move-in crew will be assembled," Libby said. "Can't wait to see you!"
"You too, girl."
Stephanie hung up and glanced at Cyd, who appeared contemplative.
"You mentioned Travis," Cyd said. "I was just thinking how challenging it must be to be a pastor in hope springs right now."
"Gee, thanks," Stephanie said. "Just when my mood lightens a little, you remind me of another downside to this movethe churches."
"I wouldn't call it a downside." Cyd was still pondering. "I actually think it's kind of exciting."
Stephanie frowned at her. "So ... members of New Jerusalem and Calvary Church are complaining about a once-a-month joint service because they don't want to worship together." she gestured around them. "We happened to have grown up in this multiethnic church. Tell me what's exciting about stepping back into the sixties."
"But look what's happened there in just the last year. God switched up the leadership at both churches, bringing Todd and Travis back to pastor. Janelle just moved back and was instrumental in coming up with the joint service. And now you're moving down." Cyd nodded, clearly piecing it together in her mind. "There will always be people who resist change, but it's still exciting when God is at work. Who knows? maybe this is why you're moving, to play a role in all of this."
"In the church thing?" Stephanie said. "I doubt it. I've never been active in anything churchwise."
"Doesn't mean you won't. You're more of a leader than you know."
Stephanie smirked at her sister. "I still think the whole move is crazy."
Cyd smiled. "maybe crazy is just what hope springs needs."
Libby took the hope springs exit early Thursday morning, her mind loaded with things to do, the first being, "Kick yourself for agreeing to oversee this reunion."
Her dad, Wood, and his twin sister, Estelle, had helmed it for decades. They'd begun planning this one as well, sending out notices to family members of the date and reserving a block of hotel rooms in Rocky Mount. But they lived out of state and had wanted for some time to pass the planning duties to the next generation. And when Libby pulled together a last-minute celebration of Grandma Geri's eighty-seventh birthday last spring, the prodding to take the reins of the annual reunion became unavoidable.
Her dad and Aunt Estelle had promised to stay in the mix, but once Libby got going, her ideas took on a life of their own. Planning was in her blood. And while she loved what those ideas had produced, the reunion as a whole had sucked too much time away from her real jobespecially this week. She'd taken the entire week off, going back and forth between her apartment in Raleigh and Hope Springs.
She turned down Grandma Geri's street, catching herself for still thinking of it that way. But how could she not? That's how she'd thought of it all her life. It would take a long time to get used to walking through the door of the family home and seeing Janelle and Stephanie living there instead of Grandma Geri.
Her foot tapped the brake a little as she approached Travis's place, and the butterflies swirled. They always swirled when she passed his house. She glanced over and saw the door ajar, with only the outer screen in place. Probably about to take his morning jog. Or maybe her cousin Marcus was up and about. To her surprise, the two of them had forged a tight bond after reconnecting at Grandma Geri's party. Marcus had asked Travis to mentor him spiritually, and Travis took it seriously. Next thing Libby knew, Marcus had been hired for a position at hope springs high and was staying with Travis until he got his own place.
Excerpted from The Color of Hope by KIM CASH TATE Copyright © 2013 by Kimberly Cash Tate. Excerpted by permission of THOMAS NELSON. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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