Sierra’s world was shaken.
The unforeseen encounter triggered her to question everything she accepted as truth. The instantaneous tremble in her hand, the sensation of her heart melting within her body, and the fact that she could hardly breathe at the mere sight of Grayson caused her to rethink the notion of love at first sight.
Frozen at the threshold of the back door to the little country church she had grown up in, Sierra’s life flashed before her eyes. Could this also be the threshold of the next chapter in her life? Could this be the answer to the prayers she was beginning to think God chose to ignore?
The rusty chairs arranged in a semi-circle around the old wooden podium in the center of the fellowship hall sparked a memory of childhood, a time Sierra often wished she could return to, a time before insecurity and distrust had become a part of her very being.
‘Sierra, I want you to meet Grayson Raines, our new Associate Pastor,’ said her mother, who was standing with him on the other side of the outdated, green and mustard yellow colored countertop separating the church’s tiny kitchen from the fellowship hall with an antique piano in the corner where it had sat for over one-hundred years.
As she attempted to respond, Sierra’s heart pounded uncontrollably. She became light headed. She could barely grip the glass in her hand. ‘My goodness, what is happening to me,’ she thought to herself as she rushed outside to regain her composure. At that moment she was glad that she parked her new little grey car near the back entrance of the church. She stumbled over to her car, put her glass on the hood, and took a few deep breaths.
She wasn’t sure why, but Sierra knew that her life would never be the same again. She could not think straight enough to remember Grayson’s last name, but she felt with every inch of her being that he was the man she would marry.
‘But God, I am so unworthy of such a gift,’ she said to herself. The same insecurity that has caused her to doubt God on so many occasions before this one crept into her thoughts – but only for a second. She knew she had to go back through that fellowship hall door again. She knew he would be standing there - waiting.
‘Lord, carry me and speak through me right now because I can’t walk on my own, and I am speechless,’ Sierra prayed as she walked toward the rusty door. As she reached out for the handle, the door opened from the other side. ‘Are you alright?’ exclaimed Grayson as he reached out and touched her shoulder. The moment his hand made contact, Sierra felt a shock, like an electrified chill. It started from the top of her head, shot through her entire body, and exited through her feet. She felt weak, as if she were going to faint.
‘Here, let me help you,’ Grayson uttered as he took the glass and papers out of Sierra’s hands. He sat them down on the cracked kitchen counter and grabbed one of the chairs from the semi-circle for Sierra to sit down in.
‘No, no really – I am fine,’ exclaimed Sierra. ‘I don’t want to sit down. I just needed to get some air, that’s all.’ She hated being the center of attention, yet she loved it at the same time. The feelings she was experiencing were new and quite overwhelming. What about PJ? How could she have these feelings for a man she knew for only five minutes when she had tossed the idea of love back and forth for nearly two years over PJ?
It was as if there was some sort of invisible force drawing her to Grayson. ‘Um, what did you say your last name was again?’ Sierra said quietly while nervously attempting to make eye contact with Grayson. ‘Raines,’ he responded with a deep, strong, voice that resonated throughout Sierra’s entire being. ‘It’s nice to meet you,’ Sierra managed to voice as she made a visual scan of Grayson from bottom to top. His burgundy dress shoes were shined to perfection.
Tomorrow would make one week since her honorable discharge from the United States Air Force, so she noticed such things. His khaki dress pants were perfectly fitted to his masculine frame. ‘He must work out a lot,’ Sierra thought as she noticed the tight, jutting muscles of his thighs beneath the fabric of his slacks. Moving her focus to his beltline, Sierra realized Grayson’s waist was equally as tight, and his abs defined beneath his white dress shirt that was tucked neatly into his slacks and held in place with a gold buckled belt that matched his shoes. An emerald green, paisley tie hung from his neck between his broad shoulders and lay against his man-of-steel chest. Breathless, Sierra moved her glance upward to Grayson’s face. As she quickly beheld his thin lips, his prominent nose, and clean-shaven jawline, her gaze became more focused. She fixed her interest on his crystal blue, hypnotizing eyes. Was it her imagination, or did Grayson feel the same mesmerizing chill upon his glance into her eyes? Just as she pulled away from the magnetized stare to notice his curly, dark hair, someone walked around the corner of the room by the old piano.
‘Sierra will be bringing our special music in this morning’s service,’ Pastor Will Allen bellowed upon entering the fellowship hall on his way to the sanctuary and pulling on his suit coat. ‘I see the two of you have already met. That relieves me of the responsibility of introducing you.’ ‘Finish up your planning, the service will begin in about ten minutes,’ Pastor Allen said cheerfully as he rushed out the rusty door.
With a chuckle, Grayson broke the ice. ‘Are you ready to sing? What song have you chosen? Let’s look at the plans we have made for the service and see where it would best fit,’ he suggested as he snapped back into reality. Flowing Creek was a traditional church. Services were still conducted much the same way they had been at the time of the church’s foundation.
Hymn number 78, Rescue the Perishing, was first on the agenda, followed by the opening prayer that would be brought by Brother Bill Younger. Greetings and welcome handshakes would be orchestrated by the instrumentalist’s version of We are One in the Bond of Love. Tithes and offerings would follow as the ushers made their way to the front at the end of the instrumental ensemble. Prayer would then precede two more hymns to be chosen by the congregation. The choir members would then take their seats, and Sierra would be introduced by Pastor Allen as the one bringing special music before the message was delivered.
‘Sounds like a plan to me,’ responded Sierra as Grayson looked to her for approval. Gathering his papers, Grayson made a suggestion. ‘Okay then, that’s a plan, let me grab my sports coat and I will walk you to the sanctuary. Come this way, we will go in through the back entrance.’
‘I am so nervous,’ exclaimed Sierra. She wasn’t sure if she was more nervous about singing in front of the whole congregation for the first time in years, or by the chance encounter that had rocked her entire world in the past thirty minutes, but her body trembled with a healthy fear that she had never experienced before that day. ‘Sure, that’s fine, you lead the way,’ she said while she thought to herself, ‘will he be the one to lead the way for the rest of my life?’
Because Grayson and Sierra were both on the agenda for the morning service, Pastor Allen directed them to the front pew where they were to sit as not to be a disturbance while making their way to the platform at the appropriate times. Sierra felt anxiously awkward, yet excited. She watched as Grayson got up and went forward to help Pastor Allen with a microphone cord that had become tangled under the platform. She had taken a good look at his features from the front in the fellowship hall, but now his back side was on display, and it was a pretty picture. When he leaned down to loosen the cord, his sports coat tightened up around his upper body. Sierra’s heart again began pounding out of control. This guy was like a dream. Sierra didn’t think there was actually a man who looked like him, much less one that she could aspire to spend her life with. Was she crazy? What was she thinking? Grayson was the kind of guy who would go for Miss America, and have no trouble getting her. How could she even think she had a chance with him? Those insecurities once again began to flood her mind.
Grayson stepped away from the platform, and returned to his seat. When he did, he patted Sierra on the knee and said to her, ‘Don’t be nervous, you are going to do a great job.’ Sierra laughed inside at the realization that he had perceived her overwhelmed response to his display of manliness while loosening the cord to be her nerves acting up over the song she was to sing. Nevertheless, she was encouraged by his tender words.
Pastor Allen pulled on the microphone cord as he moved across the platform, introducing
Grayson to the congregation saying, ‘Brother Raines will now come and lead us in our opening hymn, followed by prayer by Brother Bill Younger… Brother Raines.’ At his prompting, Grayson stood and made his way to the pulpit and opened his hymnal. ’Let’s stand together and sing hymn number 78, Rescue the Perishing.’ At that, the instrumentalist began to play. Judith Bradley, Sierra’s mother, was the organist. She looked out into the congregation, made eye contact with Sierra, and winked her eye as if to say, ‘I told you so.’
See, Judith’s hunch was the reason Sierra was on the agenda to sing for the morning service in the first place. Two days before her discharge from the United States Air Force, Judith called Sierra on the phone. She told her that the congregation of Flowing Creek Church had recently hired a new Associate Pastor, she could not remember his name, but she thought it was Chase Rainey or something like that. She explained that the moment she saw him, she thought of Sierra. ‘You have got to meet this guy when you come home, and when you do you are either going to love him or hate him.’ Judith went on to explain that he was just one of those people with unique features that would either attract a person, or push them away. Obviously he wasn’t pushing Sierra away, so her mother must have been right! ’Well Mother, I can’t just walk in the church with you and say to him, ‘Hi, my name is Sierra, my mom wanted me to meet you.’ What can we do to make it not so obvious?’ She wondered.
Never in a million years would Sierra have dreamed that her mother would call to set her up with a guy, especially one who was older than she was. Grayson was in his mid-to-late-twenties, just out of college, and a new Seminary Student in New Orleans. Sierra was almost twenty-two, just out of the service, and had yet to begin her college education. At the end of that initial phone call, once Sierra had agreed to meet the nameless man her mother spoke of, Judith said, ‘You just come prepared to sing, I will take care of the rest.’
Sierra had sung in a Christian ensemble and in a Youth Choir while she was in high school, before she joined the service, but it had been years since she performed in public. She felt inadequate to say the least. Breathless and feeling unworthy, Sierra agreed to find a song and get prepared to sing in church when she returned to Louisiana. She hung up the phone; however, feeling a bit hypocritical. Since her days of singing in choirs and Christian ensembles, she had not exactly been a model Christian. Though she would be considered a ‘good girl’ in the eyes of most, she knew where she was, and felt ashamed and inadequate.
Parties, friends, and peer pressure had taken over where church events and devotion to the Lord had once dominated. Though there were lines she determined not to cross, her testimony was still not one that deemed her worthy of standing before a congregation to minister in any way, or so she felt. Anyway, how was she going to meet a guy who had been called into the ministry and was attending seminary without a drastic change in her own life? ‘I will just give it a try,’ she thought it could not hurt anything to make her mom happy.
Judith’s wink sparked a timid smile in Sierra. She nodded her head in agreement, and felt a peace about the whole ordeal. ‘Let us pray,’ declared Brother Bill Younger. Sierra felt that she must have been day-dreaming through the whole first song, as she barely remembered anything past the opening notes. ‘Pull your stuff together girl,’ she secretly thought as Brother Bill prayed. ‘Amen…now if you will shake hands with those around you while the instrumentalist play you will be blessed,’ he said enthusiastically.
The people of the congregation seemed to make a bee-line to the front of the church to welcome Sierra home. Everyone was overjoyed to see her. ‘Are you going to sing for us today honey,’ Mrs. Edith said. ‘You haven’t aged one day, you are still a baby,’ exclaimed Mrs. Rosie. ‘When do you have to go back?’ asked Mr. Roberts, along with ‘What do you plan to do now that you are home,’ when she explained to him that she had finished her enlistment and would not be returning to active duty. It was nice to feel welcome.
It was encouraging to be home with those who accepted her unconditionally. Sierra still felt a bit like she was floating, but her nerves did begin to settle down some after such a warm reception. As the instrumentalist came to the end of the song, We Are One in the Bond of Love, the congregation was prompted to return to their seats. Only a few stragglers chose to give Sierra a belated welcome hug before they found their seats, but it was not too distracting.
‘I would like to ask our ushers to come forward at this time to take up the morning offering,’ Pastor Allen charged the men. Four men dressed in their Sunday best came to the front and stood around the table. Brother Andrew Cox said, ‘let’s pray for the gifts we are about to receive.’ With that, the men systematically walked down the aisles, passing the offering plates from person to person.
Sierra realized that she was next on the agenda. She became nervous, this time actually about the singing. She took a deep breath, sipped a drink of water from the glass she had focused on not spilling since she sat down in the pew, and asked the Lord to take over where she felt inadequate. Before she knew it, Grayson rose from his seat and walked toward the microphone.
’We are blessed today to have with us a guest who is no stranger to Flowing Creek Church, Miss Sierra Bradley, she has recently returned home from the Air Force, and is going to bring our special music this morning. So, Sierra, why don’t you come on up and bless us today.’
‘Whew! This is it,’ she thought as she stood and made her way toward Grayson. When she stepped upon the platform, he reached over and gave her a hug and whispered in her ear, ‘I will be praying for you the whole time, you will do great!’ Sierra was overwhelmed and encouraged as she stood before the people who loved and missed her, and she began to speak.
‘Um, I feel a bit inadequate standing here before you this morning. It amazes me how an almighty God can look beyond our faults, and love us unconditionally. I feel unworthy to be used by the Lord, but in obedience, I bring this message to you in song. As I do, please listen; not to me, but to the words that I sing, because that is why God wanted me to be here today,’ Sierra thought to herself with those last words, ‘at least I thought that was why God wanted me to be here today – boy was I mistaken!’ She gave the sound man a thumb’s up. As the music began, she looked out in the crowd and saw Grayson. He was smiling a pleasant smile and giving her a thumbs-up of his own, and said, ‘Just let go.’
Sierra sang the song, “Holy Lord,” like she never had before. It was as if the people in the room disappeared, and she stood face-to-face with the Lord as she sang. Such a healing and a cleansing took place in her personal life during those three minutes that it seemed like hours. The fact that there is no condemnation for those who seek the Lord resonated within her spirit. She hit the final note of the song a different person than she had hit the first. This had been a day like no other, and it was only eleven o’clock in the morning.