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Excerpts from...Promises Beyond Jordan
Copyright © 2004 Vanessa Davis Griggs All Rights Reserved
Promises Beyond Jordan


December 31, 1970

Winston-Salem, North Carolina


Chosen In The Fire Of Affliction


Lena Patterson looked up at the silver-haired nurse with tears in both her eyes and her voice, and softly said, "Haven't you ever loved anyone so much there was nothing you wouldn't do to keep them from hurt?"

"Lena that doesn't answer my question," Nurse Hayes said. "Who can we contact to let know you're here? It's been a week now; someone needs to know your whereabouts. Surely there are family...friends who are worried about you? I'd like to call them." Lena looked away. "Then here." Nurse Hayes held out a news article. "When I saw this, I realized it was about you. Go on. Read it."

Lena's hand began to tremble as she held tight the paper. Her eyes fell where Nurse Hayes had pointed. Lena noticed herself as she began to shake even more. Not from the pain that definitely racked her body, but the impact and reality of just two paragraphs printed in the newspaper dated December 25, 1970.


Vanessa Davis Griggs  


WINSTON-SALEM, NC: December twenty-fifth is supposed to be a day of celebration. For one family, at least, this is not the case. Last evening, a fire totally engulfed a duplex home, critically injuring a woman as she apparently attempted to save the life of two children she believed to be trapped inside the house. Firefighters say they are still investigating the cause of the fire, but it appears to have begun with a live Christmas tree. "People need to be careful around this time of the year," Chief Houston said. "It only takes fifteen seconds for a dry tree to blaze—consuming any and everything daring to stand in its way."


As to the condition of the twenty-year-old black woman, one doctor (who wished to remain anonymous) said, "It will be a miracle if she pulls through. I hope she has a strong family. She's going to need more than we can ever give to survive the extensive third degree burns suffered on her upper and lower body." One fireman said, "We tried to stop her, but she broke loose. Don't know how she made it into that inferno, let alone made it out. But she did...and with a little child wrapped in her arms." Names are being withheld pending family notification.


Lena couldn't feel the tears that ran down her bandaged face. And as much as she didn't want to, she knew what she had to do.


Richard Jordan came to the hospital an hour after Nurse Hayes called him. Standing next to Lena's bed, he wondered what decision she had come to. Not able to say the words, I'll sign the papers; she only nodded her answer to him.



Promises Beyond Jordan

Richard was twenty-one with so much he was planning to offer the world. Besides being six-one and a beautiful dark brown; he was smart, kind, mature, and responsible. Aware, already, of the calling on his life: To help the hurting. And as bad as things looked for her, Lena knew how much he loved her. Knew he would do right by her. And yes—knew he could be trusted to keep his word.

"All right," she whispered, then swallowed hard. "But just until I'm better."

"Of course," Richard said fighting back the tears. "That goes without saying. And you will be better soon. Then" He couldn't speak anymore. Who was he kidding? Even the doctors were shocked she had made it this far. They knew it was sheer will keeping her alive. But how much longer could she truly keep up the fight? "Lena, I'm sorry," he said. "So sorry."

She handed him the folded article. It was getting harder for her to get her words out. "Keep this also. For me. Safe. I want it back. Some day. Promise me, Richard.'ll keep this...and give it"

He knew what she was doing: Making him hold on to something. She had to know in her heart, he believed she would make it through. To know, she knew how much she had to live for. Keeping the article—promising to return it—would be the evidence of his faith. "Promise me," she said as she closed her eyes.

"Lena, don't you worry—" He put the article inside his coat pocket.

Reaching out, she tried to touch his hand...tried to form a smile. "Oh, I'm not worried." She stroked his hand. "Remember, Richard. Just until I'm better."

He leaned down and softly kissed her bandaged forehead. "I promise." Wiping at a tear that had somehow managed to escape from his eye, he tried to give her his most confident smile. "Just until you're better. Just until you're...better."


Chapter 1 is next.
Promises Beyond Jordan
©2004 Vanessa Davis Griggs All Rights Reserved


Chapter 1: December 2000

Casting Down Imagination



"Have you ever loved someone that you never had?" George Landris said as he stood tall, looking down upon his wife-to-be.

"What?" Theresa Jordan said, more confused now than when they first began this conversation some ten minutes ago. "George Landris, what in God's name are you talking about? We're getting married in less than two weeks. Nine days. December thirtieth, two thousand, George. And you come here to tell me you have to go to Alabama? Then when I ask why...why you have to go, your only explanation is about loving someone that you've never had? I'm sorry, but I don't understand."

George pulled her closer realizing he should have told her something else instead. "Theresa, I'm not trying to hurt you. My going has nothing to do with us. It's just something I have to do. I know. I'm not explaining this very well. You're just going to have to trust me on this. I'll call you when I get there—"

"And just what do you propose I tell my family? My friends? The people at church, should anyone ask? Did you even think to mention to Deacon Thomas that you may not be back in time for Sunday services?"


Vanessa Davis Griggs  

"Theresa, Sunday is three days away. Don't you think you're making a big deal out of—"

"Well what do you expect? Exactly how am I supposed to act? Tell me, Pastor Landris. Please tell me. What is the correct way to respond when the man who has promised his love to you, informs you he's about to up and leave, just like that?" She snapped her fingers. "Better still, what's the correct way to respond when it appears he's leaving you to see about some other woman, in some other state, and..." she held up her index finger, "he didn't even ask if you'd care to go with him?"

"She's not some other woman, Theresa. She happens to be someone who...needs me right now. Surely you can understand and appreciate that? Things like this come with my job. You know this. You also know, needs don't bother to make appointments." He bent down slightly to look into her big brown eyes. "And had I asked, what would you have said?" His own eyes now forcing her to be fair and honest with her answer.

"Okay," she said, turning away from his gaze before turning back to look into his soft hazelnut eyes. "I realize I told you just yesterday I'd be too busy this week and next to run around with you on your visits or otherwise. But George, the whole reason I took off from work, was because I have so much to do."

"And that's fine, Theresa. But any of those visits would have been to people here in Atlanta. I honestly can't say how long it will take me in Alabama."

"I know, George." She could only let out a hard sigh. "And had you asked...I wouldn't have been able to go. Not on such short notice. Not with Christmas coming Monday, my planning our wedding...getting my hair done before Sunday—" She sighed again. "It's just that—George, she's not even a member of our church! We need you here. Your congregation..." she pressed her lips tight before pouting them, ""



Promises Beyond Jordan

"Well that's a very Christian way to go about it. We can only see about people who are part of our congregation?" He half-teased, then became serious. "Theresa, I don't want to make this any harder than it needs to be. I'll call you when I find out something and be back as soon as humanly possible. I promise."

Theresa stepped back from George and tilted her head to one side. Tears began to slip from her eyes. "Yeah. Sure. And you always keep your promises? Right, George? So does this mean at least I'll see you at the altar on our wedding day?" She smiled, attempting to make him feel she was okay. "Tell me, Pastor Landris. Are you the one; or should I have waited for another?"

George stepped back over to her and took her hand; her venture to joke didn't fool him any. "Theresa...I do understand this probably makes no sense to you; I'm not sure I'll ever be able to explain it. Totally, anyway. Alabama's not all that far. Let me get there, find out what's going on, and we can go from there. All right? Just please, please don't cry." He wiped at her tears. "In your heart of hearts, you know this is something I must do." He lifted her head up by raising her chin.

"Yeah, George. In my heart, I know." Theresa smiled and stepped back again away from George. "Drive carefully, okay." She began to twist and fiddle with the engagement ring on her finger. The two carat, pear-shaped diamond she had received just six months ago from the charismatic, dynamic, powerful, forty year old, Wings of Grace Faith Ministry's pastor. The dreadlocks-wearing, Word-teaching, brand-new-mercy-preaching, handsome, pastor of the three-thousand-and-still-growing membership church. "I'll wait," she said. "Here."

George picked up his overcoat and slid it on. "I will call you when I get there and know something." He searched her face, trying to see if she would give him an okay to leave me smile.



Vanessa Davis Griggs  

She didn't...could not bring herself to look at him, but rather continued to twist the ring on her finger. The token that pledged she was to soon become Mrs. George Landris. The symbol of that which has no beginning and no end. She glanced up at him, desperate to muster her best smile. But the hurt was all that labored through. And George couldn't help but see it all over her face.

He opened the door and walked out, closing it softly behind him. Theresa flopped down on the couch and began to cry. "If only I hadn't shown him that article in the papers this morning!" she said repeatedly beating both fists on the couch's seat cushion. "He probably wouldn't have even known it yet. Now instead of happily planning the beginning of our life together, he's off to see about some famous Johnnie Mae Taylor." She punched her fist twice into a back pillow before grabbing it and muffling her moans inside it. "Oh God! What do I do?" She cried louder. "!?"


The past two months, George had begun to see a difference in Theresa. He had indeed prayed about marrying her before "popping the question." She appeared to have a heart for the church and the ministry. She'd come in, on day one, with her sleeves rolled up—working with the youth and the Drama Ministry. In fact, wherever her hands had been needed. But something was starting to unravel with her, although George didn't know what...or why. When he asked her about it, she laughed—blaming any and everything on the pressures of planning a wedding of a, "major production." A ceremony she insisted was a, "must have."


George popped in a Kirk Franklin CD as he sped down I-20 West from Atlanta to Birmingham. He had tried to reach someone in Alabama. Tried to find out what had happened other than the four lines the



Promises Beyond Jordan

newspaper had reported. He hadn't been able to get in touch with anyone who could tell him anything of substance. The article said it was a car accident seriously injuring three people. No other details were, as yet, available. There was too much left George didn't know.

Theresa had no idea when she showed the article to him that he would react the way he did. He hadn't really shared a lot about his past with her...that part of his past anyway. She had no way of knowing he even knew the up-and-coming author, although Theresa had bought and read both her books.

When George saw her reading Johnnie Mae's latest book, he didn't bother to tell her he knew the author personally. Even though he knew it would have been a thrill for her to have met Johnnie Mae—she had voiced that much to him at least twice. Still, he never mentioned how he could get her a personal audience with the newly famous writer. One day, he had told himself, he would most likely surprise her with a special meeting. But as he drove well over the speed limit of seventy, he wondered if he ever really would have.

Getting from Atlanta to Birmingham, George knew, would only take about two hours. But even that, seemed too long a time for him to learn the answer he so desperately needed to know right now. Johnnie Mae, her baby girl—Princess Rose—were they both all right? And Solomon...what of Johnnie Mae's husband?

He pressed the eject button of the CD player thinking he needed some true quiet time. Time to be able to really talk to God. Time to seek God's face. Was he doing the right thing by going to Alabama? Especially right now? And how would Johnnie Mae react to his coming...his being there after some two-and-a-half years?

The radio instantly blasted, "This is V-103, and you're rocking the box with Portia Fox." The CD player seemed to be mockingly sticking out



Vanessa Davis Griggs  

its tongue at him as Patti LaBelle crooned and sang, "If only you knew..." Reaching to silence her, he quickly drew back his hand as though someone had—without warning—hit it. Almost by instinct, he found himself singing along with Patti, the words, " love you."

Passing the Anniston exits, he knew he was only forty-five minutes outside of Birmingham. "Dear Lord," he prayed aloud, "let all be well. Please, Lord. Please. Just let all be well."



Promises Beyond Jordan
Chapter 2 is next.
Copyright © 2004 Vanessa Davis Griggs All Rights Reserved


Chapter 2

The Spirit Of The Lord Is Upon Me


Since George hadn't been able to get anyone to tell him anything over the phone, he had driven to each hospital and spoken with someone at the information station face-to-face. Birmingham has at least nine hospitals; he was up to number six and was beginning to wonder if maybe he should try something different altogether.

"Excuse me, Miss," he said to the middle-aged black woman behind the area with the letters Information spelled out at its base. "I pray you can help me. I'm looking for someone who may have been admitted to University Hospital after a car accident this past Monday night or possibly Tuesday morning."

"What's the name, sir?"

"Johnnie Mae Taylor. Might be listed as J. M. Taylor."

She searched the computer. "Sorry. No one here by either name."

"Then could you try Solomon Taylor?"

She typed in something and looked up at him. "And you are?" she said.


Vanessa Davis Griggs  

It was at that instant, he knew he had located the right hospital. Finally, after driving all over the city. "George Landris," he said. "L-a-n-d-r-i-s."

She looked at the screen again. "I'm sorry. Looks like there's not a Solomon Taylor listed either."

George knew what was up. That was why he hadn't been able to get any information over the phone. To keep people from bothering them during this time, the hospital probably had received strict instructions not to release any information other than to approved persons. His name, apparently wasn't there.

"Miss, look. I happen to be a friend of the family. I came over from Atlanta about five hours ago. If you could possibly speak with someone in the family, let them know I'm here...I'm positive they would give you permission to tell me what room number—"

"You know," she said, almost smiling as she cut him off, "you look so familiar. I know I've seen you somewhere. I've been trying to place you since you walked in. Would you happen to be a preacher?"

"Yes, I am."

"I knew it! I knew you looked like someone I'd seen before. You come on that...that TBN channel, don't you?" Her eyes were almost laughing. "You're that pastor me and my husband watch every Sunday evening. Well, every Sunday evening we don't have to go back to church, that is. We have a lot of church programs, but I love to watch you when I get a chance. I love your teaching!"

"Thank you," he said. "I appreciate that."

"Pastor Landris...why of course! Don't know why I didn't put it together sooner." She began quoting his TV slogan. "`Taking Life to a New Level With the Power of God.' Oh, and please forgive me for having to lie to you earlier. There's a notation that states only people listed can be given any information. Unfortunately, your name's not here. An oversight on the family's part, I'm sure."



Promises Beyond Jordan

"Believe me. I do understand."

"Since I saw that teaching you did on Integrity in the Workplace, I know it wouldn't be proper to disclose this information...even to someone like yourself."

George continued trying to maintain a smile. What could he say? "Well do you think you might be able to check with someone...let them know I'm here asking? They may give you the go ahead. Then neither one of us would be compromising our integrity."

She grinned again. "Of course." Picking up the receiver, she made a call. "Pastor Landris?" she said, no longer smiling. "No one is answering that number they have listed. But, I'll keep trying it." She began to smile again. "I still don't believe this! I actually got to meet you! Glory...and in person! Right here, on my job at that! Just wait until I tell my friend Maggie. She's going to flip! She watches you all the time. Never misses you. Videotapes you, even."

George looked at his watch. He didn't quite know how to respond. He'd been getting this type reaction a lot lately. One of the things that seemed to come with the territory of him being seen on television each week. He was truly honored by people's comments, but he had only considered this as part of his commission to go into the highways and spread the Good News.

And television had certainly been a runway for him getting the word out. That was when his ministry really took flight. By beating the bushes and hitting the streets, he had managed to grow the congregation from thirty-seven faithful members to over fifteen hundred. Shortly after he began broadcasting over the airwaves via radio and television, a flood of people began pouring in. Now there were close to thirty-five hundred members—three thousand consistently filling the pews each and every Sunday. God had certainly been faithful.

"Pastor Landris?" The woman interrupted his thoughts. "Would it be too much trouble if I were to



Vanessa Davis Griggs  

ask you for your autograph? I mean, I think you're just as much of a celebrity—if not more so—as those Hollywood, New York, and Singing type folks."

George took the small pad and pen she held stretched out. "It would be my pleasure, Mrs....?"

"Dawson," she said. "Jewellene Dawson. Jewellene has two els."

George smiled and handed the autographed paper back to her. He didn't want to rush her, but he really couldn't think of much else other than learning what he had come all this way to find out. "Mrs. Dawson—"


"Jewellene, do you think you could try that number again for me, please? Or maybe there's someone who can authorize your releasing that information?" He started to stress the fact that he was a man of God. Surely there must be some loophole in their rules that would accommodate someone in his type position. After all, visiting the sick was a part of what he was called to do.

"Yes, of course." She called, but still no answer. The other person she called told her family's instructions are to be adhered to completely. When Jewellene tried to explain the unique situation, she was told it didn't matter if it was the Pope himself! So Jewellene tried calling that contact number again. "Pastor Landris," she said, "I'm sorry...still no answer. But I did reach the nurses' station. They said they would try to get a message to someone in the family. If you like, you can wait over there. I'll let you know as soon as I hear something."

George looked at the seating area she had pointed to a good distance away from her station. "Thank you, Mrs. Dawson," he said. "You've been most kind." He sat on a couch that ended up being quite comfortable. A good thing too; he was there for over an hour.



Promises Beyond Jordan

"Pastor Landris?" Mrs. Dawson said. He stood up. "I've not heard back from anyone yet. But you know, I was just sitting there thinking. I'm due to get off in about twenty minutes, and I'd really hate for you to have to wait here. So it occurred to me, there's a perfectly good waiting room...across the street. Just go straight out that door," she pointed, "over to the Jefferson Towers Building. Nothing says you can't wait in that waiting room. Maybe you can talk to one of the nurses there. Who knows, someone might be able to relay something of importance. After all, a waiting place is a waiting place."

George looked at her and smiled. He took her hand and patted it twice. "Thank you, Mrs. Dawson. You're an angel. And may God bless you for all the kindness you've shown. You and your family will certainly be in my prayers."

She blushed. "Well, Pastor Landris. It's like I always say. University Hospital might be known throughout the world for many great accomplishments. But at the beginning of it all, a waiting place is still just a waiting place."

George strolled out the door and quickly made his way across the street. As he pulled open the door, he almost caused the person coming out of it to lose her balance and fall forward. "Oh, I'm so sorry," he said.

"George?" the woman said, taking a closer look. "George Landris? Is that you?"

He couldn't believe it. More than two years had passed since he was last in Birmingham. And who would be the first person he runs into? "Honey? Honey Benefield," he said, as though they had actually left on the best of terms. They had disagreed on ships: she desiring a relationship; he only offering his friendship.

She looked him up and down. Umph, umph, umph. Still fine as ever I see. She smiled while popping her chewing gum. And check him out, he grew back his dreads. They're even longer than the first time we met.



Vanessa Davis Griggs  

He could feel her stare measuring him up. Honey always had a way of making him feel self-conscious about his body. He was physically fit: working out practically every day. It never seemed to bother Honey how transparent she always was in displaying her hunger for him. Noticing her eyes were now frozen on his hair, he allowed a tiny chuckle to slip past his lips. "It grew back," he said to her. "Stronger and longer than ever."

"Yeah, I was noting that fact. Some say hair is an outward sign of spiritual growth. I liked you with the bald look, but dreads have started to grow on me. And I really am sorry about my son getting all that green gook in your hair that time. I realize how difficult it must have been for you to have had to begin again."

"Beginnings are a part of life. Often we find we must end one thing in order to begin another...or anew." He didn't want to be rude and was fully aware this was still probably a sore spot for Honey—but he had to ask. "How's Johnnie Mae? There was a brief article in the Atlanta Tribune about the accident, but not enough details were available to answer the questions I had. It didn't say who all was hurt, how bad, or how anyone was doing. So I—"

"Had to come," Honey said, finishing his sentence. She didn't blame him; only wished someone cared about her even a third as much. Curious as to what he had been up to lately, she didn't want to hold him up. Unsure of exactly how much she should tell him, she said, "George, Johnnie Mae got banged up real bad, but she made them release her anyway. Solomon and Princess Rose both are in intensive care. Princess Rose is over at Children's Hospital. Another reason why Johnnie Mae was not going to be confined to any hospital bed. But George," she said, "...between you, me, and the light doesn't look so good for either of them right now. Johnnie Mae has practically slept in waiting rooms since they released her. I don't know



Promises Beyond Jordan

how she'll feel about you being here, but I do know she can use all the support she can get."

The weather was cold as they stood outside. George gave Honey a little hug. "It really is great to see you. Is anyone with her?" George wasn't as certain now that his being here was the right thing to be doing. But it was too late to turn back.

"Yeah. Someone is usually around. Except when official visiting hours are over. Her brother Donald just arrived. Hopefully, he's still with her. Of course, her mother has been with her from the beginning. Johnnie Mae made her go home about an hour ago to get some rest. You know, it was just two-and-a-half years ago that Mrs. Gates lost her own husband. She doesn't cope so well in hospitals. Johnnie Mae knows that. Our friend, Sister, was here earlier. Do you remember her? Anyway," she said, not giving him time to answer either way, "...she went home about two hours ago. It's generally this time that everybody starts heading back. I've got three left at home to see about myself. Oh, and I'm still single. My oldest daughter is away at college now. Can you believe that? I actually have a child who's attending college!"

"God is good, Honey."

She pulled her self back and did her head the way black women do when they're asking without having to utter a word, `What you talking about?!'

"George Landris...did you just say what I think I heard? Did you just say the word...God?"

He laughed. "I happen to say the word God a lot these days, Honey. You see, I'm a minister—"

"You're a what?! You're a minister? I know there's a God somewhere!" She laughed. "So tell me, when did all this happen? Better yet, how did it all of this happen? I can't believe it! George Landris, a minister? You? Of all people? A minister?!"

"Okay, okay. That's enough. Let's not get carried away. I mean, I wasn't that bad." George smiled



Vanessa Davis Griggs  

before glancing downward at his wrist. He had been at this one hospital already, two solid hours.

Honey saw him peek at his watch. "Oh well, gotta run! It's freezing out here! Maybe we'll see each other later? Then you can fill me in on your great conversion. How long were you planning on staying? In Birmingham, that is?"

"Truthfully, I hadn't really thought about it. I pretty much got in my car around one Atlanta's time and just drove over. They're not exactly doling out information, including which hospital. I brought a few days of clothing just in case it took me longer than I calculated to find out something."

Honey tried to look serious. Translated, that means, as long as Johnnie Mae needs you, she thought. "So George, or should I say...Reverend Landris—"

"Pastor Landris."

"Oh, Pastor. So it's Pas-tor, huh? Okay, Pas-tor Landris. Well have you jumped the broom yet? Started yourself a family?"

"I'm engaged," he said. "The wedding is set for December 30."

"Whoa! That's not even two good weeks away."

"So I've heard."


George started back toward the door. "I suppose I should see about locating Johnnie Mae...check out how she's holding up."

"Well George, you know how strong she is. Hasn't shown the first sign of breaking down yet. She's in the MICU waiting room. On the left." Honey bundled tighter and began walking away. "You take care now," she yelled without looking back. "Uh-huh," she said under her breath. "George...getting married? And in less than two weeks?" She continued talking to herself. "But you're up here seeing about Johnnie Mae? Yeah...okay, Pas-tor Landris. You can send me an invitation to this wedding."



Promises Beyond Jordan


George took a deep breath and slowly pushed open the door to the waiting room. He scanned it, but found it completely empty. Letting go of the breath he had held onto so tight, he decided on a chair by one of the two walls of windows. Fifteen minutes passed. Thirty. Forty-five. Then the door slowly opened. He looked up.

"Johnnie Mae?" he said, rising to his feet.

She stood as though she had permanently taken root in that spot. Staring as though this was something her tired mind had simply manufactured to help keep her sane, she finally found her voice. "Landris?" she said.

He smiled. And she—not being able to stop herself—began to cry. "You came," she said in between sobs. "But how? How, Landris? Tell me. How do you always seem to know when I really need...someone?"

He pulled her close and held her softly, as though she might somehow break. "Shhh," he said. "It's all right. Everything's going to be all right." Seeing her built up reservoir of tears continuing to flow, he walked her over and eased her into a chair.

Sitting next to while still holding onto her, he ran his hand down her hair repeatedly. "Go ahead," he whispered. "Let it out. Just let it all out."



Promises Beyond Jordan
The Other Side of Goodness by Vanessa Davis Griggs
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