Elijah Brewer unlocked the door to his house and held his breath as he prepared to get the first look at what would be his humble abode for the next year. The small home came as part of the benefits package included in his compensation plan when he accepted the position as the youth pastor at Jasper Lake First Community Church.
The outside passed inspection. Basic, but it had a pleasant curb appeal with trimmed hedges lining the house. Fresh green paint clung to the shutters, making them stand out against the brown wood siding. One step on the porch wiggled when he stepped on it. He knew how to fix that.
Would the inside earn his approval as well?
His heart sank when he flipped the light switch and the interior illuminated. Dark brown wood paneling shrunk the room’s size. Burnt orange shag carpet, though well-maintained, spread before him like lava spewed from a volcano. The seafoam green sofa wasn’t much better, but a decade newer—perhaps.
Even his century-old college dorm room had been more updated than this house. He swallowed his disappointment and stepped inside to explore the rest of the house. The galley kitchen surprised him with updated appliances, even a dishwasher. Finally. Something in the house created this millennium.
On impulse he pulled open the refrigerator door, shocked to see it full of sodas, bottled water, juices, fruits, deli meats, salads and more. He closed it and looked in the freezer. Five different casserole dishes filled the cavity with instructions taped to each one. He shut the door and noticed an envelope with his name scrawled across the front propped against a fruit bowl on the counter.
He slipped his finger under the flap to open it. An image of a bird sitting on a flower covered the front of the card. For some reason, it made him smile. He glanced on the inside and read the greeting. It was signed by the welcoming committee, a team of middle-aged to elderly women if he had his guess. Every church has their group. A sense of familiarity in this unknown territory crept into his soul.
The doom he’d experienced at first sight evaporated. Truth was, he wouldn’t be spending much time in the house, anyway. He planned to throw himself into his job and make the most of this experience. A good reference from the pastor could make a huge impact on his future, but if he blew this opportunity, he’d have a much rougher path to reach his goals.
And reach his goals, he would. He’d been called to preach from the age of eleven and had his future plotted on a timeline. This year as acting youth pastor made him adjust that schedule, but for good reason. After seminary, the opportunity would boost his resume above others when he searched for the church he would pastor; besides, it would give him practical training.
Leaving the kitchen, he looked down the long and narrow hallway. Should he risk looking in doors now and renewing his disappointment? No, he wanted to maintain his current optimism. He knew God had brought him here, but he was out of his element. He’d always adapted well to change, but this one hit him harder than he’d expected—thus exacerbating his horror at the décor.
A chuckle slipped through his lips. Since when have I ever cared about furniture and home interior? Never. The exhaustion of the move was wreaking havoc on him. He stroked his beard and drew a long breath. Adjusting to life in Jasper Lake and his new position would take time, and he regretted telling his family not to make the trip with him.
He’d wanted to prove his independence, but realized too late that didn’t mean excluding his family. Their support and humor, and deep Southern accents, would have helped him not feel so out of place a thousand miles from home. Dad and Noah would have added muscle power. Leah would have kept him laughing with her subtle humor. Mom and Sara would have had him on track and organized, and Lydia would have been his personal cheerleader for the tasks ahead.
As it was, thanks to his pride, he’d have to unload the trailer on his own. Since the house came furnished, he wouldn’t have to worry about lugging in a heavy sofa or dresser, but he did have boxes upon boxes of books and concordances, plus all of his other belongings. They weren’t anything he couldn’t handle alone, but company would have made the task more enjoyable.
The keys in his hand jingled, directing him to get it done. If he worked smart, he’d have the trailer unloaded and returned to the rental company by the time the Wednesday night service began.
His official debut. Pastor Gray and the pastoral search committee would introduce him to the congregation and his year-long tenure would begin. He’d hoped for an extra day to settle in first, but his truck blew a tire right before he left South Carolina and he’d had to wait a day for the replacement to arrive.
Now that he thought about it, the entire transition had been riddled with obstacles. Enough that if he wasn’t certain God had called him to Jasper Lake, he might doubt his decision to take the position instead of going straight to seminary. From missing paperwork to not receiving the deposit back on his apartment—thanks to a bottle of bleach that spilled during his final cleaning—and vehicle problems.
Nothing worth it rarely came easy.
He went to the trailer and pushed the door upward until it hid directly below the ceiling, extended the ramp until it tapped the asphalt. Lengthening the dolly handles, he formed his plan of attack: start at the front and work toward the back, placing each labeled box in the appropriate room.
The organization he’d utilized in packing the trailer simplified the task of unloading it, and he was thankful for his mother’s suggestion. With all the boxes unloaded and stacked inside, Elijah took the time to inspect each of the three bedrooms. He’d hurried to place the boxes without stopping to notice the surroundings. The master bedroom would be his, and one of the two smaller ones would serve as his office. The third could double as storage and a spare room for his family, when they hopefully came to visit.
Each room down the hallway, including the bathroom, was nondescript, a pleasantry compared to the outdated living room. The walls smelled of fresh paint—a basic cream color that neither added nor distracted from the room. Vinyl blinds covered the windows, and no curtains hung.
This I can work with.
He dug in his suitcase for a change of clothes. It wouldn’t do to show up for his introduction to the church in a sweat-drenched shirt smelling like a locker room. He showered and dressed, then stared at himself in the mirror. Would he pass appraisal? He already had the pastor and board’s approval, but that meant little if the congregation as a whole didn’t like him. First impressions were everything in this business, despite the fact it was a church and they were supposed to practice that thing called grace and all that.
Would they think his hair was too long? Although he’d had it trimmed, it still ran longer than a traditional cut. He’d inherited his mom’s thick, chestnut brown hair, and if he cut it too short, it laid in an awkward presentation. Facial hair was popular in church circles at the moment, so his neatly styled beard shouldn’t present a problem. He’d traded his sweatshirt for a button-down shirt covered by a utility jacket to ward off the air’s chill.
After a final critical gaze in the mirror, he decided that if he were a member of the church, he’d pass his own inspection.
By the time he finished getting ready, he didn’t have time to heat any of the food left for him in the kitchen. Jasper Lake had no fast-food joints that he knew of, but there should be one in Farthington he could drive through after dropping off the trailer.
Grabbing his keys and wallet, he considered anything else he might need to take. Probably his Bible in case he pushed it to the last minute returning from Farthington. He retrieved it from his suitcase and went to his truck. His new GPS had proved a lifesaver on the way to Jasper Lake from South Carolina, and he prayed it wouldn’t let him down now. He hadn’t a clue how to get to the rental company.
After he set his destination, he pulled away from the curb. The scenery captured his attention as he drove. He’d lived his entire life in South Carolina, just outside of Charleston. He knew beaches, flat wetlands, marshes and bogs, and the midnight chorus of bullfrogs. Hot humid summers and warm autumns that stretched into winter.
Wearing a sweatshirt in September was a foreign concept. So was accelerating the gas to make it up steep roads and then braking on the way down to keep within the speed limit. Pine needles replaced Spanish moss and falling rock signs stood alongside the road every couple of miles.
But different didn’t mean bad. Something about this place breathed calm into his soul. He thought of Saturday night bonfires, how the cooler climate meant he could enjoy the fire with his youth without breaking a sweat. He imagined the hikes he’d take with the boys he’d mentor and remembered the bonds he’d formed as a teenager during the epic journeys taken during summer youth camp.
He broke out in a smile, eager to begin his work. Being a youth pastor wasn’t his ultimate goal, but he couldn’t deny the fun opportunities it provided. Four years of college and maturation separated him from his own youth group, but his younger sisters kept him in touch with the struggles today’s youth faced.
Lost in thoughts and planning, he arrived in Farthington with no problems. The trailer rental company had a large sign in front of the building that caught one’s eye and made it difficult to miss. He pulled into one of the long parking spots. While he unhitched the trailer, an employee came out, took his information, performed a quick inspection of the trailer, then returned inside.
A minute later, the employee came back with a receipt and handed it over. “You’re all set. Thanks for your business.”
He took hold of the slip of paper and glanced at it, surprised by the seamless process. “That’s it?”
The employee smiled. “That’s it. Our goal is fast service without compromising quality.”
“Fantastic. Have a good afternoon.” Once behind the driver’s seat, he looked at the clock on the dash. Thanks to the speed of service, he had plenty of time to grab a bite to eat.
Several fast-food restaurants dotted the main strip, and he pulled into one known for their chicken sandwiches. Tacos sounded better today, but not to eat while driving. He could picture the line of taco sauce down his shirt that squirted out from the bottom and the random spots of grease from where lettuce, beef, and cheese jumped out whenever he took a bite.
No, tacos would definitely have to wait no matter how tempting they sounded.
Light bulbs turned on in the creative side of his brain. Why not have a taco bar as a kickoff youth event? He’d missed the window for a back-to-school night, but from what he understood, youth group hadn’t yet started because the former youth minister left earlier than expected. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. Food broke barriers, and it would be a good time to get to connect with the kids he’d been entrusted with. He’d add some ridiculous games that made no sense but kids loved. Play festive music in the background and let the kids relax in an unstrained environment.
Peace washed over him as he considered all the fun he’d have with his group while leading them to a closer relationship with Christ. He finished off his meal and held the steering wheel with a loose grip. Using his free hand, he grabbed his soda and took a sip then set it in the cup holder with a broad smile on his face.
He’d give this job everything he had, but it would be the easiest hard work he’d ever done.