Two days later I receive a phone call from an unidentified cell number. I nearly refuse to answer it, but it occurs to me that any number, except my boys’ numbers, will be new or unrecognizable. I have to start somewhere.
“Hello?” I say quietly.
“Yes?” I affirm. I’m still not sure who’s on the other end of the call.
“This is Jackson.”
“Oh,” I say somewhat relieved. “Hi there.”
“Do you have a minute to talk?” he asks me.
“Sure, I’ve got time.”
“I was wondering if you’d like to meet with me to discuss your ideas regarding charity work?”
“Absolutely, I’d love to. When would you like for me to come?”
Jackson pauses for just a second. I think I hear him smiling. What’s that about?
“Will tomorrow at twelve thirty work for you?”
“That’s fine. Where do you want to meet?”
“I’ll have Harcourt pick you up a few minutes after twelve, okay? I’ll have my security guy meet you at the door and he’ll show you to the cafeteria.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you tomorrow at twelve thirty.”
At noon the next day I leave home for my meeting with Jackson. I choose black dress slacks and a feminine red blouse. I add a delicate diamond necklace given to me by Thomas before we were married. I’ve got my hair fixed in my signature curls, hanging free around my face. I grab the satchel that contains the information I put together about my ministry objectives and head for the curb. Harcourt is already waiting on me.
“Good day, Mrs. Morgan,” he greets me cheerfully as he comes around to open my door.
“Hi there, yourself. How are you today?” I inquire.
He offers me his hand to assist me into the car. “Well, Mrs. Morgan, the sun is shining, I’m strong and healthy and I’ve got a great gal I adore. Life is good.”
“That’s awesome, Harcourt! Good for you!” We chat the drive away and in no time we arrive at Dawes’ headquarters.
The chief of security, Rico, meets me at the limo and escorts me to Jackson who’s waiting in the cafeteria. He has the back-northeast corner of the room cordoned off. I suppose his efforts are intended to offer us privacy as we talk.
Jackson beams as he walks forward to meet me. “Ellie, hi there!” He seems so glad to see me. I can’t imagine why he’s so enthusiastic about me when he knows so many important, influential people. I’m sure he meets with any number of them frequently.
“Thank you, Rico.” Jackson acknowledges. Rico nods and silently leaves us.
“Boy, Jackson,” I gush, “A girl could get used to this! A limo shows up at my door. A personal escort shows me the way, so I don’t get lost. This is a trip!”
He turns his smile loose on me and I can’t help but blush. I deflect by nervously pulling my satchel tightly in against my body. Jackson pulls a chair open for me and helps me seat myself. I scrunch into the chair while I try to find the sweet spot. I look up at him and ask, “Okay where do you want to start?”
“Well, I certainly want to get to the specifics, but why don’t you start by telling me about yourself.”
“You know my name already.” I pause, blush and catch my breath. “I’m sorry, I’m kind of nervous,” I admit quietly.
“You don’t need to be nervous, Ellie. Just talk to me. Pretend you’ve known me for years, okay?”
“Sure, no problem.” I smile up at him. I keep my hands busy in my lap, but I keep talking. Soon my nerves give way to earnest conversation. I relax and finally begin to enjoy myself.
“I was married to Thomas for 25 years. He was several years older than me and taught school for 32 years. We have three grown sons, whom I adore and am very proud of. They’re all brilliant, of course. We got them all through college. Two have wonderful jobs. The third is a broke grad student, but he’s doing what he loves and is working very hard to accomplish his goals.”
“Sounds like a great bunch of guys,” Jackson remarks like he’s impressed.
“We spent most of our marriage on a small farm in southern Indiana. It was a hobby farm really. Thomas loved animals and enjoyed them as a means of dealing with the stress of teaching school.
“We worked hard at our marriage and at raising our boys. We also did our best to live like God wanted us to. We took our faith very seriously. I still do. My faith is what brought me to the city.”
“Oh, really, how so?” Jackson wants to know.
“Thomas’ salary as a school teacher topped out at $64,000 a year….”
“You’re kidding? That’s it?” Jackson marvels.
“Yeah, that’s a fortune compared to his first-year salary of $13,000,” I continue.
Jackson shakes his head. “That’s unbelievable!”
“Well, on that amount it’s hard to have a life or a family, that’s for sure. Anyway, we’ve always been generous givers to the church and ministry related charities, but I’ve always had this longing in me to make a real difference for God’s kingdom. So, I decided to fast for three days and pray.”
I shrug my shoulders like the next words I’ll speak are inarguably logical. “That’s exactly what I did. During that time, I asked God to send us the lottery so we could make a real difference in the world for Him. For three solid days the only thing I consumed was water. Then a few nights after my fasting ended Thomas dreamed that God sent him lottery numbers. We took those numbers, played them and waited. We waited nine years.”
Jackson’s expression is one of incredulity. He can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. Not one word of this story is meant to pull your leg,” I tell him. “Eight years after the fast, God sent us the largest lottery jackpot in history. $1.3 billion. We took our two tickets and cashed them in.”
“You had two tickets with the same numbers?” Jackson asks. “Why? Why would you double your expenses on a single chance to win?”
“We used one to claim half of the jackpot in a lump sum cash payment. We used the other to get half the jackpot spread out over thirty years.”
“That’s absolutely incredible!” Jackson marvels. “Why did you want it both ways?”
“We’re not financiers and we’ve never dealt with large sums of money, so we did it as a security measure. We didn’t want all of our eggs in one basket. We assumed, even using reasonable amounts of money at a time, we’d make mistakes. We’d trust the wrong person or fall prey to bad advice and make a wrong decision. We were just trying to be good stewards of what God had given us. If we were careless with it and it got gone, then we’d let down God and all the people we’d promised to help in His name. We didn’t want that hanging around our neck come judgment day.”
Jackson shakes his head again. “You were really so certain that your prayer would be answered that you brought two tickets?”
“Oh, yeah. We knew he was sending the money when He sent the numbers in Thomas’ dream. We just didn’t know when it would come. For whatever reason, nine years was the right amount of time for us to wait.”
“Why do you suppose God sent the numbers to Thomas when you were the one who did the fasting and praying? That seems a little unfair, doesn’t it?” Jackson asks with sincere interest.
“Oh no, it makes perfect sense,” I contradict him. “God sent the numbers to Thomas, so he’d believe with me for the miracle. If God had sent the numbers to me and the whole story came through me Thomas would never have believed in it like I did. By giving the numbers to Thomas, God vested him in the promise.”
“Oh,” Jackson says, nodding his head. “I see what you mean. That does make a lot of sense, actually. So, if you have all this money at your disposal, why did you come to the city looking for donations?”
“It’s not just about donations,” I counter him. “In the city it’s possible to help more people in a smaller geographical area. Also, it’s like any other ministry, really. If you’re able to secure matching donations, you can do one of two things. First, expand the operations base so you help more people or, second, you get to help the same number of people for a longer period of time.”
“Okay, that’s forward thinking. Which do you prefer?”
I shrug my shoulders and say quietly, “I’m not sure yet. I’ve got areas of ministry I’d like to pursue, but I don’t think either option is a blanket fit for all three. As the organizational aspects unfold, I believe each area will dictate which option best suits it.”
“What three areas interest you?” Jackson wants to know.
“I know I want to help battered women and their kids. I want to provide shelter, protection, if necessary, and therapy, to help minimize emotional damage. I want to help get their shattered lives back on track with jobs, health insurance, daycare, whatever’s needed.
“I also want to help kids aging out of the foster care system. But that really involves two programs, one for each gender. I want to help them discover their talents, get their GED’s, if needed, and get them through some sort of secondary schooling so they can provide for themselves and their future families. Over time, this would help alleviate the burden on welfare.
“The third thing I’d like to do is help women and children trapped in the sex trades. This one could get tricky because of the danger involved. The people making money off the victims don’t want to turn loose of their product.”
“Wow, Ellie, ambitious much?” Jackson teases me.
“I know! Isn’t it great?” I laugh. I can’t help myself. I’m so excited about this new chapter in my life. “I’m in over my head, but when I do something, I give it everything I have. A half steam effort doesn’t work for me. I’ve always been a doer. It’s gotten me in so much trouble through the years.” I shake my head slowly. “No one really likes that aspect of my personality.”
“Really? In my line of work, doers are highly prized.”
“Well, your situation is different than mine,” I disagree politely. “You’re involved with all that high-tech stuff with highly specialized talent. My world is a different place.
“All it’s ever brought me is a whole lot of grief. But the great thing now is that God has given me this incredible resource so I can organize my ministry how I see fit. I’m still accountable to God, of course, and to any federal or state laws that apply, as well as, to my benefactors, but no one can fuss at me because I try too hard.”
“I think you’re absolutely correct. So, are you ready to start accepting donations?”
I quickly shake my head. “No, not yet. I’ve got to get tax exempt paperwork filed with the state. I know the IRS is giving organizations a hard time for filing for tax-free status. Because of that I’m not sure how long that will take. It could take no time. Or it could take forever. But it’s imperative I have it. I’m not giving the government 35-50% of all the funding that I manage to accumulate. That’s not being a good steward of what God has entrusted to my care.
“Also, I’ve still got so many organizational and structural components to complete. As you know I’ve only been in the city less than three weeks, so I’m trying to get around and meet people. Peyton is helping me with that. He’s been great.”
“Peyton is really good at what he does,” Jackson agrees. “He’s probably, one of the best I’ve ever met,”
“I’m sure that’s high praise coming from someone such as yourself. You know so many influential people, all of whom are good at what they do. I’ll tell him that you were bragging on him.”
Jackson continues our charity discussion. “Are you hoping to solicit donations from others who attend the network meetings?”
“Yes,” I admit, “but there’s more to it than that. If I find them interesting, relevant and worthwhile I’m also interested in donating money to other people for their ideas. I have to be willing to share if I expect others to share with me.
“I consider any charity work I do as my ministry because every program I implement will have overt faith-based implications. The way I see it, it’s great to rescue people from sex trafficking or get them into college, but if they die without knowing what Jesus did for them and without having a chance to know Him personally, I’ve wasted my time, my money and my calling.
“I expect only a small fraction of the people I reach out to will give their lives over to God, but 100% of them will have heard the gospel message and have had the chance to decide for themselves. They will know that someone cared enough about them to tell them the truth of God’s love. Surely, there are others involved in the Network who share my worldview, even if we are a minority.”
Jackson furrows his brow and looks slightly puzzled. “If you give them a million and they give you a million, how does that benefit either of you? What does that accomplish?”
“For one thing, when I speak of reciprocating funds I don’t necessarily mean penny for penny. I may give them an amount that’s more or less than they gave me, but if I really like their idea and their accountability, I may give funds to someone who can’t help me at all. Additionally, I’ll feel like I’m getting to reach people that my particular ministries won’t reach. Also, I’ll get some solidarity. I’ll have someone to bounce ideas off, someone to commiserate with when things don’t go as planned or someone to celebrate with when I have a victory. It’s that sort of thing.”
Jackson nods his head like he understands much better. “How do you plan to handle your accounting?”
“Total transparency,” is my instantaneous response.
“You’re kidding? No one does that,” Jackson counters.
“I’m not like everyone else,” I proudly inform him. “Anyone who supports my efforts will have access to my books during office hours. Actually, that will be extended to those who are considering donations, as well.
“I know when Thomas and I donated off his meager salary, we were very careful to choose ministries that were honest and transparent about how the money was spent. Over the years we did without a lot of things that would have really benefitted us so we’d be able to support people who are helping others. I was very careful to make sure the money we donated wasn’t wasted. I can’t offer any less to those from whom I hope to gain support.”
Jackson nods again. He seems to understand my thinking. He shakes his head, though, as he asks, “You know, don’t you, nonprofits are a lot like profit startups, many don’t make it. What if, in spite of all your ambition and hard work, your attempts fail? What will become of any assets you’ve accumulated?”
I’m ready for Jackson’s question because I’ve already considered the possibility. “Every asset will be sold, and cash will be refunded to donors on a prorated basis, myself excluded.”
“Seriously?” Jackson asks for confirmation. “You’d cut yourself out?”
“Sure. If I’m not willing to stand behind my name with my own money, I’d be stupid to expect someone else to.”
“Wow, Ellie,” Jackson exclaims, “I’ve got to admit that you’ve truly impressed me. I’m really good at reading people and I’ll tell you I perceive you as completely honest.”
I shrug my shoulders. “Life’s too short, Jackson. I won’t lie for you, but I won’t lie to you either. God has given me an incredible opportunity and I’m going to do my absolute best with it. Can you imagine what a different place this world would be if all of the time spent lying and game playing was put to productive use? Wouldn’t that be awesome?!”
Jackson laughs heartily as he agrees. “Yes, that would be something. Ellie, your passion is off the charts and is absolutely infectious. You have readily answered every question, and I can’t think of another thing to ask you other than if it’s okay if I have a few days to think about it?”
“Oh sure,” I tell him, nodding my head. “Take all the time you need. Like I said I’m not ready to accept money yet anyway. Can I ask one thing, though?”
This time, as though he’s eager to hear my question, Jackson nods his head. “Sure, what is it?”
I smile shyly. “In the event that you decide against donating would it still be possible to use you as an adviser from time to time, regarding investments or other financial decisions? I’m going to need a few key people, people who are business minded and financially savvy, to give me advice from time to time. Can I count you among them?”
Without any hesitation whatsoever, Jackson says, “Oh, I can answer that right now. Absolutely. I’d be happy to let you pick my brain from time to time.” He smiles at me. I smile at him. The whole world brightens.
I stand to shake his hand, but he says, “I’ll walk you outside. Harcourt should be waiting on you.” He places his fingertips on the small of my back and the entire length of my spine tingles at our connection.
We chat our way to the curb and Jackson himself opens the limo door for me. He captures my right hand in his two and kisses me on the cheek like he did at my door the other day.
“Thanks again so very much for your time today and for the use of your car. I really appreciate it,” I tell him sincerely.
“You, Mrs. Ellie Morgan, are most welcome. I’ll get with you in a few days’ time, all right?”
“Sounds great,” I tell him enthusiastically. “Have a wonderful afternoon.”
“You, too,” he says with a genuine smile.
Jackson closes the heavy limo door and Harcourt pulls away from the curb. I look back to see Jackson talking to Rico while pointing in my direction. For some reason his behavior strikes me as odd.
Some six days later I get a text from Jackson telling me he’d like to meet me tomorrow, which is Friday, at two thirty. When I ask Jackson where to meet him he replies downtown at Trump Tower. He says he’ll have to let me know which conference room as it hasn’t been booked yet. I tell him that’s fine and that I’ll wait for the rest of the details. He must be meeting with several of us if he’s concerned about booking a conference room.
The next morning, I get ready for my meeting. I choose a sky-blue dress that’s form fitting with cap sleeves and accent stitching down both sides of the front. I have a matching blue handbag and pumps to complete my outfit. By two p.m. I’m ready to go.
When I step outside, I’m surprised to find Harcourt waiting for me. Jackson didn’t mention Harcourt would be here, but that’s okay. I’m flexible enough to roll with the punches.
Twenty minutes later Harcourt pulls up in front of the designated hotel. I take a seat in the lobby while I wait for details from Jackson. At two twenty-five I receive a text from him stating the meeting has been moved to the penthouse. He tells me to take the elevator to the top floor. The code to open the elevator is 951.
This is certainly an odd turn of events. I hang my handbag over my shoulder and troop to the elevator. A couple of minutes later I arrive at the top floor of the building and punch the designated numbers into the keypad.
The elevator doors open into a spacious foyer detailed to the nines. Down the hallway, to the left, I can see an entire wall of large windows. As I advance upon the interior of the suite I call out for Jackson. I get within three feet of the window wall, already enjoying the magnificent view, when, I suddenly hear someone approaching from my right side.