<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> The midsize, burgundy rental car exited the North Texas highway to head east along a two-lane road baking in the mid-September sun. DFW international Airport was just a distant memory. The Dallas skyline had long since sunk beneath the prairie. Now the biggest things meeting Anne's gaze were barns and grain silos. <p> Anne caught Adam's dark-brown eyes on her when she glanced up at the rearview mirror. "Leonard's only sixty miles from Dallas," he said defensively. "Less than an hour's drive. Dallas. More than a million people. Is that a big enough city to make you happy?" <p> Anne's reply dripped with sarcasm. "Wow, Adam. You mean they have, like, shopping malls?" <p> Anne could not believe Adam's lack of understanding was so complete. Was he really so clueless? <p> "Don't call me Adam, Anne. I'm your dad." <p> Anne shrugged and looked away. "But do you <i>want</i> them to know I'm your daughter?" <p> Maurene's voice was strained. "Honey, you know your dad is proud of —" <p> Adam interrupted, "This used to be all grain- and cotton-farming country." He waved his hand at the flat, flat, flat land. "Now a lot of ranching. Same as up in the hills above central California." <p> Anne stared at the back of Adam's head. Could he somehow be urging her to see the cowboy connection as a positive? Anne's glance fell on her black nail polish and heavy silver rings. "And I forgot to wear my boots and spurs. What will they think of me?" <p> The back of Adam's neck turned red. An explosion could happen at any moment. <p> As always, Anne's attractive but weary-looking mother intervened. Her chirpy, everything-will-work-out-for-the-best voice was higher pitched than usual. "Lots of art and culture in Dallas," Maurene contributed. "Colleges and universities, right, Adam?" <p> Anne noticed the way her dad's knuckles, white where they gripped the steering wheel, finally relaxed. <p> <i>Good job, Mom</i>, Anne silently applauded. <i>Defused that one in the nick of time.</i> <p> Sounding way too much like a public ser vice announcement for the Greater Dallas chamber of commerce, Maurene recited: "SMU, of course. UT, Dallas. Texas Woman's. Dallas Theological Seminary and Dallas Baptist." <p> Anne snorted, then pretended to cough. <p> Maurene's monologue trailed away when neither her husband nor her daughter offered any response. Worry lines re-formed above her opal-blue eyes. <p> Anne was back in her own thoughts. Did her parents imagine that she didn't know how to use a computer? Leonard, Texas, population two thousand, give or take. "The Biggest Little Town in Northeast Texas." Seriously, what genius thought that one up? And what audience was that slogan supposed to appeal to? People who lived in even smaller dumps than Leonard? <p> Leaving Bakersfield, California, for Leonard, Texas, wasn't about missing the shopping malls or the movie theaters, the cowboys or, God forbid, the high school ball games. It wasn't about the fact that ever since they stepped off the plane in Texas everyone spoke a foreign language — sort of. <p> Leaving Bakersfield was about missing friends. Anne had not had many friends at North High School, but at least a handful shared her view of the world as a dark and dangerous place. They also shared Anne's appreciation for Inger Lorre's music, or at least claimed they did. <p> The punk-rock tune "She's Not Your Friend" from the album <i>Transcendental Medication</i> started scrolling through Anne's head. <p> Maurene rummaged around in her purse, then squirmed against the shoulder harness to face Anne in the backseat. She extended a bottle of water with one hand and an oval-shaped white pill in the other. <p> Anne made a face but accepted the pill and the water. "Wow," she said after swallowing, "one cosmic coincidence after another. cowboys in Bakersfield <i>and</i> in Leonard, and just as I thought of the word <i>medication</i>, Mom hands me some. What are the odds?" <p> "Anne," Adam said sternly, with another stare into the mirror, "these are nice folks here in Leonard. I already preached here two months ago. Five candidates, and I'm the one they called to come back for another visit." <p> Staring at the rusted remains of a 1960-something Chevy pickup being swallowed by weeds in front of a single-wide mobile home, Anne remarked under her breath, "Bet the other four refused." <p> "What was that?" Adam demanded. <p> Anne said nothing. <p> He exhaled. "Look, Anne, I really want this. I can do good here. I feel it. We can have a fresh start. I don't need to tell you how important that is, do I? You want a fresh start too, don't you? More than anything else?" <p> Again Anne said nothing. As the medication took effect, her expression became serene, despite the fact she knew such a thing wasn't remotely possible. What she really wanted more than anything else was a cigarette. <p> <p> * * * <p> <p> Adam Wells grasped both sides of the wooden pulpit. The home of First church of Leonard was small, square, and plain to the point of severity. Medium-brown wainscoting reached no more than three and a half feet up the white-painted walls, as if stretching any higher was too much effort. The only relief from the drab interior was the sprinkling of stained glass, and the windows contained mere daubs and stripes of muted purples and blues. <p> Leonard was a far cry from the carpeted theater seating, the expensive light and sound system, and the theatrical-quality technical effects of Adam's previous post. Nevertheless, he was perfectly in his element on the stage, spartan as it was. When Adam strode onto the platform of a church, his lean good looks, high forehead, and square shoulders and measured, weighty words captured the attention of everyone present. As far back as Adam could remember, this had been true. He seemed to draw energy from the lectern itself. <p> "What does God offer you?" Adam asked the onlookers. "The water of life, Scripture says. Have you ever been thirsty, so thirsty that nothing but a drink of water held any interest for you? When you know real thirst, you realize that anything else — everything else — is of no importance until that thirst is relieved. Let me ask you: What are you thirsty for in your life right now? An answer to a deep, secret prayer? What is your greatest hunger? The need to be forgiven and know beyond any doubt that you are accepted by God as His own dear child? What are you thirsting and hungering for today?" <p> Adam had a reputation as a good teacher, a wise counselor, a considerate visitor to hospital wards and the homes of shut-ins. But it was when he appeared in his role as preacher that Adam was most in his element, and he knew it. <p> Adam would never liken himself to an Old Testament prophet. Such comparison smacked of ego. But he admitted in his heart that standing behind a pulpit — any pulpit, anywhere — invested him with an authority much like wearing the mantle of a prophet. <p> "Scripture says, 'come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! ... Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?'" <p> Without turning, Adam sensed the approval from the pair of church deacons seated behind him on the platform. Their introductions of him had been cordial, even excessively complimentary. The attitude radiating from them suggested they already regarded Adam as "their" pastor. That was a good thing. Ever since his pastorate in Great Falls, Montana, three years ago, he and his family had drifted through the pastorates of two California churches before he became jobless again. <p> The call to become the spiritual shepherd in Leonard was a sure thing, Adam realized. For form's sake, the church board might deliberate for a week before notifying him, but the decision had already been made. <p> Internally Adam grimaced as he recalled Anne's sarcasm about how the other candidates had refused this post. But this could be his last chance. Three pastorates in five years — each less significant than the last. If they failed in Leonard, he was headed to Bigmart as a door greeter. Squaring his shoulders, Adam put on his most sincere countenance. <p> He consoled his injured pride. The need for a man of Adam's caliber and leadership was evident in this morning's attendance. Barely twenty people sat on the stiff wooden benches in the stiff wooden auditorium that would easily have held 120 or even 150. Even though Adam had not yet met all his congregants, he had already sorted them into types: seven widows, an equal number of spinsters, an aging married couple, a handful of unattached males. No young families, no children. That fact alone meant a dying church. Adam drew in a determined breath. He had been called just in time. There was a desperate need for him in Leonard. Perhaps here he could fulfill his life's dream of making a difference. And maybe here his troubled family could find peace ... put their lives back together. <p> Halfway back on the right was the only set Adam could not clearly classify: Former US Senator John cutter, Leonard's one claim to national political fame, sat ramrod stiff with his arms folded across his expensive blue suit. Cutter had promised to revitalize the town. His expression made it clear to Adam that he attended church for appearance's sake. Cutter's thirty-something wife, Candy, was twenty-something years younger than her husband. There was plenty of gossip about the pair. <p> As Adam spoke, candy's face had softened with emotion. He'd seen such signs of internal struggle in other churches he'd pastored. Candy's over-thick mascara started to smudge around the edges. <p> This duo represented both the first challenge and the first opportunity, Adam realized. Senator cutter was a force to be reckoned with in Leonard and throughout northeast Texas. He'd claimed publicly that he'd bring new agribusiness to Leonard and revitalize the ailing town. <p> Adam smiled inwardly. What better showcase for a resurgent Texas prairie village than a megachurch rising from such humble beginnings? <p> And the key to Senator cutter was clearly his wife. Rumor suggested that Candy cutter had been an exotic dancer in her past, but now it appeared any hard shell from her previous life was melting. Adam's words echoed around the entire shoebox that was First Church, but his message was for Candy. <p> Adam glanced at Maurene, seated in the front row. Sweeping her shoulder-length blonde hair with a quick, nervous gesture, she gave him a smile and a nod of approval. <p> But where was Anne? <p> Nowhere to be seen. Probably outside, smoking. Resentment and relief warred briefly within him. Probably it was better this way. Anne could be so disruptive, and nothing of that kind was needed today. <p> Adam knew two things with clarity. First, to say their family was not perfect was an understatement. The Wellses had their own set of struggles and storms, but what family did not? Adam grappled daily with the fact that his family's storms seemed only to grow in intensity, as if there was something dark, ugly, at their core. <p> Second, Adam also rationalized that he had something to offer the hurting people of the world. He'd dreamed of it often, ever since he was a boy. If it was somehow required that he start again from this little corner of nowhere to get to that dream, then so be it. <p> "Who will come?" Adam challenged. "Who will come and drink the water of life freely offered to you? Who wants to receive beauty for ashes this very day?" <p> After a moment's hesitation, candy cutter raised her hand. The same motion lifted her austere husband's eyebrows. <p> When Adam issued the invitation to come forward for prayer, candy stepped out into the aisle. Senator cutter, restraining a scowl, did not accompany her. Neither did he try to stop her. <p> And so it began. The resurrection of First church of Leonard and the revival of Pastor Adam Wells's ministry were underway. <p> After the ser vice, Adam stood on the porch receiving the compliments of the congregants. All three church officials clustered around him. Adam noted that the pillars holding aloft the porch roof and its trio of deacons shared a number of common traits. Men and columns were both graying. They were sturdy, sensible, and supportive. <p> Adam's view darted toward Anne in the church parking lot. Her uncaring posture, her indifference to the importance of this day, her dark clothing and jet-black nails irritated him. How had they reached such an impasse? <p> Sunlight flickered on something in her hands. Adam stared. Was that really a cigarette lighter? He fervently hoped she would go somewhere else, out of sight of the church. He wondered if he could whisper a message to Maurene to take Anne away, and quickly. <p> At that instant deacon Brown — short, square, mustached, and bespectacled, the spokesman for the group — blurted, "it's just that you're so overqualified, Pastor." Brown's tone suggested doubt that Adam Wells could possibly want the Leonard post. "Things being how they are and all. Well, you've heard the salary offer. We don't want to insult you, but at the salary we're able to ..." <p> Adam continued smiling and nodding while his mind raced. it was time to nip this notion in the bud. He knew they were impressed with his preaching. No way was he going to let this position slip away. <p> Though there was no course in Bible college offering this particular skill, being able to listen attentively to a conversation on one hand while simultaneously making small talk on the other was a necessary pastoral ability. Adam Wells was well practiced in its use. <p> "You're Missus Cleveland?" Adam remarked to an elderly woman leaning on the arm of her daughter. "I'm very pleased to meet you." <p> Maurene stood staunchly by Adam's side, murmuring cheerful greetings and also shaking every hand as the congregation exited the building. <p> "Brothers." Adam had used the momentary diversion to frame the perfect response and now replied to the deacons as if there had been no gap in the discussion: "Let's just say I'm qualified to serve where the Lord calls me." <p> Senator and Missus cutter emerged next from the church. In place of the earlier streaks of tears, candy now wore smears of makeup from futile attempts to wipe her eyes. She walked straight toward Adam and shook his hand warmly. "Thank you," she said in a voice hoarse from crying. "Thank you." <p> The deacons offered bashful grins of approval. <p> Senator cutter looped around the emotional scene and headed off toward the parking lot without speaking. From his jacket pocket Adam produced a tissue that he pressed into candy's grip. Ducking her head, she smiled shyly, then remained planted on the porch, as if waiting for something. <p> "And brothers," Adam resumed, "right now it seems as if the Lord is calling me to Leonard." <p> Candy gave a slight gasp of joy and clapped her hands together. <p> "Well," deacon Brown said, scratching behind one ear as if unsure how to deal with an unexpected affirmative answer, "the church does have a parsonage, a small house. It's not much, but if you really feel ..." <p> Adam didn't delay. With swift firmness that betrayed a practiced reaction, he seized the moment. Stretching out his hand, he shook first Brown's, then Deacon Respess's, and finally deacon Morley's, each in turn. <p> Only two things marred Adam's complete success. <p> One was the way Senator cutter impatiently returned for his wife, grasping her firmly by the elbow and pulling her away from the church. Adam noticed but did not understand the tension. He also saw Senator cutter exchange a meaningful look with deacon Morley, who in secular life was a bank vice president. <p> "What was that all about?" Adam wondered. "Guess the senator wasn't prepared for Candy to feel the power of the Spirit like she did. The senator doesn't seem to relish surprises, and his wife certainly sprung one on him today." <p> The only other thing to rankle Adam's pleasure in his triumph was the sight of Anne, arm warmers pulled down to her wrists, leaning against the rental car, smoking. As if the open disrespect wasn't bad enough, he could tell the instant Mrs. Cleveland and her daughter spotted Anne. Both women's heads snapped upright, then bent together in a shared confidence. They sped up their pace as they walked past but continued studying Anne with evident disapproval. <p> Adam was relieved when Anne sauntered away toward the church graveyard and out of view of the parking lot. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Beyond the Farthest Star </b> by <b>Bodie Thoene Brock Thoene </b> Copyright © 2011 by Bodie Thoene and Brock Thoene . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.