Prologue

"Nat, you really need to get married!" Jay Mittleson teased. He leaned forward. "Then you'd have all that time you spend ironing those slacks to work at the church."

"I'd rather hire a maid if that's all I needed."

Jay grinned. "True, true. But seriously, you should. You haven't even dated anyone since you came here."

"Don't have time." Nat glanced at the four other elders at the meeting. The only elder missing was Paul Israel and that was because he was the topic of discussion. "Now about Paul... Is that settled?"

Vince Frederick, the senior elder, shrugged. "We still haven't determined where the extra money will come from."

The discussion focused on salary then. Nat was relieved that they had turned from his inability to perform his duties as well as he'd like with a congregation that had almost doubled its size since he'd become the pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian.

When they finally broke up at nine, Nat drove the forty minutes northwest to Paul's house outside the small town of Chesaning. It was snowing again, but he ignored the flakes falling on the already white fields. Fields held little interest. Growing up in Kansas, he had been able to stand almost anywhere and see miles of fields. Instead he loved Paul's property on the Shiawassee River with its rolling hills and wide variety of trees. All he could see as he pulled into the drive now were the dark shapes of bushes and the outline of bare branches against the night sky. A floodlight lit the drive, and Nat parked his Saturn behind Paul's truck.

Paul's wife Elizabeth met him at the door and took his coat. "Paul's in the music room. May I bring you coffee or ginger ale?"

"Ginger ale. Thanks, Beth." Nat walked through the long living room and up the three steps at the end into the music room which held their computers on one side and a baby grand piano on the other.

Paul sat at a desk on the computer side of the room. He closed his laptop and motioned Nat into the armchair near the desks. Paul didn't bother standing, and Nat didn't expect it. Paul had confided not long ago that his leg would ache at the end of the day where the prosthesis attached to the stump. He always hid it though, and Nat guessed that some in the church didn't even know Paul had lost his left foot in the military. "How'd it go?"

"Can you guess? No decision."

Paul shook his head and smiled. "A long meeting for that. Are they leaning toward hiring me or scraping the whole idea?"

"Oh, they'll hire you. They just don't know what to pay you." Beth set his Vernors down on the table beside him and then went to a computer on the edge of the room. "Thanks, Beth. They're going to investigate how much you should get. I have a feeling they're going to be surprised at how much you're worth."

Paul laughed. "Worth? I'm not worried about that."

Nat smiled. "I know. If you were you'd have taken another job by now, and I'd be in real trouble." Nat sobered. "Jay is after me about getting married again."

"So who's the girl?" Paul still retained his humor, and it helped Nat gain a perspective on the situation.

"Hey, I'm open to suggestions. Do you know a perfect pastor's wife?"

"Yeah, but she's married to me."

Nat grinned. "No one else?"

"I haven't been looking. Want me to fix you up with someone?"

Nat shook his head and then sobered. "You know, lately Paul, I've really been thinking about this. Not because Jay thinks I should get married, but just because I want to. Before I could pass it off, but... I'm getting older and...."

"You're a whole 32 years old. Yeah, you're an old man."

"I'm ready, Paul," Nat said, ignoring Paul's teasing. "But it's not like I haven't been looking. There are no good single women left."

"What are you looking for, Nat? I'll help if I can."

Nat shrugged and started running down his list. "A Christian... in more than label. Someone willing to live in or near Flint. Someone willing to put up with the sometimes unpredictable schedule of a pastor. Someone who saved herself for her husband and takes marriage seriously. Someone who isn't intimidated by the pressures of being visible in the church... You know the hardest part is finding women that are still virgins."

"You've never made a mistake?"

"Not like that! Paul, please. This is related to her walk with Christ and her view of marriage."

"People grow up. But we can pray about your wife. I'm sure she's out there somewhere."

"And we need to pray that they won't take forever to make their decision on your job." Nat took Paul's hands and bowed his head. He prayed first about Paul's position at the church. Then he continued to speak about what had been nearest to his heart in the last few months. "Lord, please. I have been patient. I am ready to marry and have a family. The elders in Your church all agree I need to marry. Please, if it be Your will, bring the right girl for me to love and care for, to have my children, and be my partner in serving You."

"Lord, Thank you for allowing us to come to You," Paul continued. "And thank You for hearing our needs and concerns. You know what Nat needs, even more than he does. Please meet his needs and open his heart and eyes so that he can recognize Your gift when she arrives. Don't let pride hold him back. In Jesus name, Amen."

Nat lifted his head and looked into Paul's eyes. No, he couldn't ask. He turned away and stood. "Thanks. I better get home. It's almost midnight."

Paul followed Nat to the door and retrieved his coat from the closet. "I'll be in tomorrow by ten," Paul said.

"Thanks." As Nat got into his car he thought about Paul. He already worked at the church twenty to thirty hours a week. They'd only hire him for twenty... but a pastor never had the luxury of a set number of hours. He'd once asked for Paul full time, but that was shot down so fast by the elders, he didn't mention it again.

Paul was his closest friend. No one understood him quite like Paul, and they both loved theology. Nat enjoyed discussing Paul's seminary studies, and the books they both read. With everyone else Nat was the teacher, but Paul challenged him as they discussed the deeper issues of faith.

Tonight Paul had considered his list frivolous. He hadn't said that, but he didn't think virginity was essential. That was easy for him to say. He'd been divorced when he was still quite young, and Elizabeth's first husband had left her. But Nat had saved himself. He deserved someone who had also.



contents Chapter 1