XXI. Family Desired
Steve and Sandra were looking forward to John and Sarah coming home for Valentine’s Day. It would be a great time of celebration to have the kids come in for the holiday.
Sarah had left enough hints for Steve to understand that a very special young man was coming in with her. Sarah was sure Steve would be pleased to meet her special person.
All the way through high school Sarah had not zeroed in on any one particular boy. She seemed to keep her options open.
John – on the other hand – had only been serious about one young lady from his junior year in high school through high school graduation. But when he went to Texas A&M with a football scholarship, their paths seem to go in different directions.
The young lady, Sharon Wilson, had gotten her Associate Degree in two years at the local community college. She then finished her Bachelor’s Degree at Belmont in Nashville with an emphasis in business.
Sharon was quite an intelligent young student academically and finished her degree early. After graduation, she had stayed in Nashville to work in a bank there.
He had kept up with Sharon from a distance. Although, he knew that his being in College Station, TX – 750 miles away – and heavily involved with the training program for college football, he would have little time for a long distance relationship.
More than anything, he wanted her to meet a young man that she could love and that would love her. And that they have a house full of kids and a happy life.
He temporarily lost tract of Sharon after she graduated from Belmont and actually thought that she might have found someone and married. He had heard from a friend that she stayed in Nashville after graduation.
However, unbeknownst to John – Sharon actually now worked for his Dad at the bank. As cupid’s arrow would have it – and without Steve’s knowledge as to who she was at the time – Sharon had come back home and accepted a position with the Community Bank.
With her credentials, she was place in the loan department with Jody. He trained her to become a loan specialist working with his team and currently was a Vice President in Loan Development with Allison.
Sharon Wilson, was John’s one true puppy love in high school. Now she worked with Jody and Allison on commercial accounts for the Community Bank of Lebanon. But no one had made the connection of a previous relationship with John in high school.
John arrived home the weekend before Valentine’s Day and Steve picked him up from the airport in Nashville. He hugged his son with great delight since it had been almost 2 months since he had seen him.
He thought while waiting for the plane to arrive, “The last time I actually saw John was when A & M played Alabama for the National Championship in the AT&T Stadium in Dallas. We went to Dallas for the game thinking we might spend some time with John.”
Steve later reflected, “But instead the only time we got to see him was when the camera singled him out on the sidelines. Several times I actually saw him up close on the Jumbo-tron Monitor mounted in the roof of the stadium.”
Every time John made a great play, they would zero in with the camera on him. John was a powerful player on the field. As he would come off the field taking his helmet off – you could see him quite clearly.
The coaches had the boys on a tight schedule to keep them from being distracted. After the game; the team was loaded immediately on buses to be taken to the airport to fly back to College Station.
They knew the students from both schools were very rowdy and could create a serious situation if allowed to mingle. So it was airport to hotel – hotel to field – the game – the field to airport. And if there was to be time off – it would be in College Station.
The team was allowed to go home after the National Championship game. John had finals coming up and elected to stay to study for his major exams.
This was his senior year. He wanted to make sure he made it especially if the next year might include the NFL draft. Most athletes after being drafted never return to finish their degree.
Steve was shaken from his thoughts. John’s flight came rolling up to the gate. John was one of the first to get off.
He grabbed his Dad with a bear hug; picking him up; and hung on for what seemed a life time. Here was this big old boy almost twice the size of his Dad; actually crying with joy at seeing his Dad.
They got John’s luggage and found Steve’s car. They headed out of the airport for the drive back to Lebanon.
On the way back to Lebanon, John said that he wanted to have a real serious talk with Steve before he went back to school. “Not here, but at home where we are not distracted by traffic or anything,” said John. They promised each other time would be set aside and the women would not be around.
John knew about the special person his sister Sarah was bringing home. He knew that if he did not set up a time with his Dad; it could easily get away from both of them.
On the way home, John exclaimed, “It is good to get back home even if it is just for a short time. And to get to see Sarah again as she starts a new chapter in her life with this whomever … whatever … this character is.”
John concluded, “I only know one thing when it comes to Sarah, he had better be extra special. Or he is going to get it from me.”
Steve replied, “From what I hear from your Mom, we are going to be quite taken with him. You know he is going into medicine with her. They will be in different fields, but working together. They are even going to Fort Worth together for their internship when they finish in Kentucky.”
Steve laughed, “I think I already like this guy. Be good to have a doctor in the family. Especially with you playing football, you could get hurt you know and need a doctor.”
Steve laughed at the thought of John getting hurt on the football field, but then a lot of guys big like him do. Few actually get to retire under their own time schedule.
John asked, “Tell me all about what is going on with Junior and the New Age Bank? Is it going over well in Lebanon? I know that it was pretty tough on you and Mom when he left to do that, but I am glad both of you have found a way to make it work.”
He continued without waiting for an answer, “Tell me how the family working is this out now that Uncle Sam and Aunt Joan are back in town? Everything back to some type of normal.”
“Slow down John, one question at a time,” said Steve, “Junior has his bank going and he has made a few mistakes but nothing that was not expected for a young banker. And nothing has come up that he can’t correct.”
To the family, Steve said, “As for Sam, Joan, Junior, and June – well that is still being worked out. We see them at church and your Mom still works with Joan and June on special community projects but other than that there has been little contact.”
Steve lamented, “I would like to see it return like it was. I think it will some day, but it might take a little time.”
He concluded, “There has been nothing negative either way, we have just avoided the issue. It might be that we have just not tried – them or us – and if we did it would be like it was.”
Steve shared Sandra’s idea, “Right now, your Mom and I think that until we see them make some effort to come back – since it was them who left – it is best if we just stand back and wait. It’ll happen.”
“Well, maybe I can do something about that,” said John. “I am going to want to go over to his bank and see what he has going on. I am sure I will see Junior. As a matter of fact I will make it a point to see Junior. Tell him I want the 2-bit tour.”
“That would be a start,” said Steve, “Just stay off the subject of his leaving and move forward with where he is now. I know he will be happy to show you around. They say he is real proud of what he has done.”
“Well here we are at home. Get ready for a bunch of squealing from your Mom.”
As Steve was speaking, Sandra came running out of the house. “I have been tracking y’all on the Find My Friends app.”
Sandra was laughing and shouting at the same time, “I could not wait for you to get here. Can you imagine me using a cell phone to track someone?”
Sandra was ecstatic, “Why did we not have these things when y’all were in high school? There is no telling how much trouble you would have been in if we knew where you were all the time.”
She was so excited she was talking a mile a minute. John grabbed Sandra in a bear hug and swung her around like a miniature doll. Her small frame and his bulging body from weight training made her seem light as a feather.
Steve grabbed part of John’s luggage. John got the rest and they went arm in arm into the house.
“You got to tell me more about this guy coming in with Sarah,” laughed John. “Am I going to have to straighten him out so that he stays on the straight and narrow with the family?”
“No, and they will be in the morning; so you behave,” said Sandra, “I have already got Steve to promise to be on his good behavior.”
“Sarah loves this guy; so don’t be cute with him,” alluded Sandra, “he is a real serious doctor going into a real serious field of medicine. He is going to be a surgeon.”
Sandra warned, “Whatever you do when you shake his hand – don’t give him that Aggie squeeze. His hands are his medical instruments and you don’t want to break one.”
“Boy, you just wait,” threatened John. “I think I will grab him up like I did Dad at the airport. I’ll give him a big ole Aggie hug.”
“You do and you will have Sarah all over you,” laughed Sandra. “She has already warned me to tell you to back off.”
“Back off – that means ‘get on’ in Aggie land,” teased John. “Just wait until I see them.”
Sandra had prepared a big meal for John’s homecoming. She knew that the flight from College Station probably would not have food.
She had already told Steve not to stop and eat anywhere on the way. So she was prepared to serve him until his stomach was filled or his pants burst whichever came first.
Through the meal they discussed John’s path to graduation. They wanted to know what all had happened since they won the National Championship in Dallas over Alabama.
John was excited to give them all the details including the parade in downtown College Station and on the campus as well. They had been treated like kings since they got back.
Even one of his professors told him he did not have to take the final to pass the course. He could just walk right on through.
Football at A&M is a religion and not a game. “Play it well and you are honored,” declared John. “Foul it up – forget it – you are the scum of the earth.”
“If you remember before Johnny Manzeil, we were pretty much the scum of the earth. Granted it was not all him, but it was a lot of him,” responded John.
He continued, “He could make plays where there was no hope of making plays and we would score. It was almost like we were destined to shine with him on the field.”
“I don’t know what Coach Sumlin will do next year since Johnny is announcing for the draft this year. He has a couple of young quarterbacks coming out of high school but I don’t see either of them as the one,” John shared.
Acknowledging, “Boy I am full. I could not eat another bite. The meal was great Mom. This is what I love about coming home – your cooking.”
“Look, I know you and your Dad would like to spend some time together. Look it is a clear night and cool but not cold,” declared Sandra.
Sandra reasoned, “Go out on the patio and I will bring some coffee and y’all can talk. I need to clean the dishes anyway. I’ll be out soon.”
John and Steve went out to the patio. “You want a drink, John,” asked Steve, “I think you are old enough now if you want a beer or a mixed drink. I can fix one for you if you do.”
“No, I still leave that stuff alone,” said John, “Look what it does to Manzeil – he can’t handle it and yet he still goes after it.”
“Look, Dad, what I want to talk to you about is my future,” started John. “I am going to graduate this spring and then there is the possibility of the NFL draft.”
“All the agents want to sign me now since they feel that my position is going to be a hot item this year. According to them all the teams are going to be looking for offensive linemen.”
“I have made quite a name for myself in that role but … .” his voice trailed off. John sat there for a moment.
After a brief silence, John spoke again, “Dad, I think that I am through with football. I love it, I want to be a part of it in some way for as long as I can, but the training and rigors of the game have passed me by. I do not get the joy I used to.”
Explaining the concept of football today, John said, “Plus when you look at the positions on the field for people like me, they are few and far between.”
Explaining, “I think with hard work, I could start my rookie year if I was drafted. I have gotten calls from the Dallas Cowboys who want to trade up to get me. Seems they want to protect this new quarterback Dak Prescott. But that is part of the game is what I’ve lost.”
Continuing, “Love for the game – yes – but not the love of the ‘on the field’ game. Now you either lose or you win against your opponent. There is no love for the game.”
Finishing his concern, “The opponent is not the other team but the man you line up against every play. One wins one time and the other might win the next time and for what – so a guy in the back field can throw a football without being hit.”
He ended, “It’s a game, Dad, and I want more out of life than a game. Does this make sense to you?”
Steve thought for a moment as he leaned back in hi chair. He had never considered that John felt this way about his football.
John was indeed a great football player. All the scouts had him rated at the top of their charts in his position. To hear him talk about the game like this was a shocker.
“But,” thought Steve, “What is life if you have to do what you don’t love. Especially if you have lost the passion for the game.”
“Son,” started Steve, “it is hard for me to relate to what you are going through with football, but let me equate it to banking. That is where I live every day 365 days a year.”
Steve continued, “I get up every morning with a desire to get to the bank to see what I can do to help someone. Will I be able to give them a loan or advice on a new business venture that will help them with their present and in their future?”
Steve explained, “My business is not psychological; however, there is a lot of psychology in it. My work is looked upon as financial but if all I had to do was go to the bank and work numbers every day, I probably would have given it up years ago.”
He explained, “I see my work as helping others. It is fulfilling to come home at night – see your mother come running out to meet me and want to know what I did that day.”
He went on, “She probably does not even know that my work is helping others but when I get through telling her what we did on a given day – she gets excited with me.”
“I help that new couple with their dream business or dream home. That to me is what banking is all about and that is what I love about it,” concluded Steve.
Steve exclaimed, “To equate that to a game of football; where a lot of it has become a numbers game for many; could be as disturbing to me as working just numbers only at the bank.”
“The owners just want a winning season. Players just want top dollars or bragging rights over other players in their same position with the league,” he acknowledged.
Steve declared, “Why even now, we have high school football players getting their dads to move to areas where they have a strong football program that will help them with a football scholarship. And not a scholarship that gives them an education like you are getting – but one they buy on the field of play.”
They then try to be the best in their sport so they can command the top dollar in the draft. That is pretty much just a numbers game.”
Steve continued, “Look at what the NBA is becoming? Big time stars are taking short term contracts for big bucks. That way they can command even bigger dollars as a free agent with a struggling team that wants to be successful and possibly win a conference or national title.”
Concluding, “I can see how you can become disillusioned with the sport when it becomes a dollars game. It changes up the whole concept of the game for the players.”
He ended, “Fans don’t care – they just want a winning team. You guys in the trenches – do what you want. Just win.”
John agreed, “Well, it has certainly gotten to be that. You ought to hear the conversations in the locker room.”
He shared, “Few have a concern for winning for the team – the school that gave them a scholarship in the first place. They are thinking that college football is just a stepping stone to get to the millions that are out there for the taking.”
Explaining, “I want my life to mean more than that. Sure dollars are important and you need dollars to live, but you would be surprised how many of these guys are broke and penniless after a few years out of the big game. Even though they made millions while a star on TV.”
“Here is what I have in mind; you tell me what you think about it. I want to graduate in the spring and then come back here to Lebanon. I want to go into banking with you,” detailed John.
John added while waiting for Steve to respond, “Know this up front; I am not looking for a VP position or anything special. I want to start with an entry level position and learn the business just like you did. If and when you feel I can move forward, I am sure you will recognize my ability – not my last name.”
John laughed, “Who knows I might learn the business from you and move on to a better position with a bank in Nashville or somewhere. But I want to learn it from you so that I have what you have described.”
John lamented, “I’m sure that if I were to find a better position with another bank – and if I was qualified for that position – I would go with your blessings. But that is down the road. I want – right now – to come back here and work with you. What do you think?”
Steve had been sitting on the edge of his seat as John was describing his future plans. He leaned back. In his mind he wanted to shout out a real loud, “YES, YES, YES, but this was his son asking him these questions.”
“What about banking in Lebanon – and the Community Bank? Sure things were going fine right now, but will they always be going that great?” he wondered.
Steve thought, “Could John be brought along as strong as I was by my Dad. So much so that in the event of a tragedy, John could take over as I did with my Dad?”
Finally Steve mustered the courage to say, “John, if I were answering that question right now; there would be no hesitancy in bringing you into the bank. I do not foresee anything that would change my mind in the next few months until you graduate.”
“But,” cautioned Steve, “John, there is always a ‘but’. You know that everything was working fine here until Mom and Dad were killed in that accident.”
Steve recounted, “Since then the family has kind of gone off track so to speak. But we are still in banking and banking is good. For the foreseeable future; banking is good.”
“And if banking is in your foreseeable future – with your initiative and achievements in football – I don’t see you having any problems with me or any bank where you choose to work,” submitted Steve.
He added, “And as you say, I will give my blessing and anything that I can do to help should you go elsewhere to work before or after you go to work at the bank.”
“Your Mom and I want the best for you now and I will always want the best for you. If that best can be found apart from us – so be it – go for it,” encouraged Steve.
“Yes, I would be happy to have you join me at the Community Bank of Lebanon as a floor sweeper.” Steve started laughing, “You did say you wanted an entry level position did you not?”
“Thank you, Dad, I will be the best floor sweeper that bank has ever had. I will make you proud of my sweeping.”
Both stood and embraced as Sandra came out with the coffee. “What a family hug and I am not included?” she asked, “What’s the occasion?”
“I have just hired the best bank floor sweeper in Lebanon,” shouted Steve, “to go to work for the Community Bank of Lebanon when he graduates. Wait until I tell my friends, I beat out the Dallas Cowboys on the draft and got my Son before they did.”
“Wait, Dad, … it will probably be best if we wait until I graduate to announce this,” cautioned John, “I understand Jody is doing a great job for you with his team and I do not want him to get rattled by my coming in.”
“I want to learn to work with him. And become friends with him so that he will know that he has nothing to worry with me sweeping the floor,” winked John.
John explained, “Somewhere down the line, I would like to work with someone like Jody to further learn the business. It would be a lot better if he did not see me as competition.”
“Well he is a sharp kid and has his head on straight. But I will hold off until we get closer to your graduating before letting anyone know. That is a good idea.”
Steve shared, “We might even consider your joining their team. He has Sharon and Allison working with him.”
Nothing was mentioned about Sharon and Allison other than their first names. John saw no reason to pursue it as they were excited about Sarah coming home in the morning.
Sarah arrived with her beau about 11 the next morning. She had told Sandra that they would have breakfast on the road so not to worry about anything for them to eat.
Everyone kept glancing nervously out the window for their arrival. Sandra was so excited.
John reminded her, “You were not that excited when I came in. How goes it with the precious little one and only daughter?”
When they saw the car driving up, they all rushed out to meet Sarah. Sarah bounced out of the car and hugged her Dad who got there first and then released him to grab her Mom.
John went for the stranger getting out of the driver’s side. He extended his hand and introduced himself. “I’m John Johnson, the brother, and as you can tell – these are my Mom and Dad – Steve and Sandra Johnson.”
“And as you can see,” he said, “we are not your normal family. Everyone gets a little crazy when our baby sister comes home.”
John bore down on the baby part to make a point with this stranger as he shook his hand. He wanted the stranger to know that he would be looking after her.
James Bolton, the stranger, spoke, “Boy, you are some big glass of water, John. Don’t want to meet you in a dark alley, much rather you be with me.”
“Ah ha, the stranger speaks,” said John. “Glad to meet you and welcome to the Johnson household.”
“Dad, Mom and John,” expressed Sarah, “This is James Bolton, the love of my life. You are going to love him.”
Steve put out his hand to shake hands with James, but Sandra interrupted, “We don’t shake hands with family in this family, we hug ‘em,” she shouted as she went past Steve to grab James and give him a big ole Lebanon Johnson family hug.
“Well, I am not into hugging men,” declared John as he patted James on the back, “I hope you won’t find us to intimidating while you are here.”
“Well, I still hug. Kids never get to old to be hugged and parents never get tired of hugging,” declared Steve, “Come here boy, let me see what you are made of.”
As James stepped forward to hug Steve, “I can assure you I am not made of what John is. You might find me a little lacking.”
“And you did not spend all your time in the weight room,” replied Steve laughing, “I bet. Come on, John let’s get the luggage and get everyone in the house. Neighbors might think we are having some kind of a hug fest out here.”
James and John went around to unlock the trunk while Steve and Sandra grabbed the clothes that were hanging in the back seat of the car. “It’s so good to see you,” started Sandra, “And we want to hear all about James.”
She explained, “Don’t leave out any details. I want to know how you met him – who his parents are and what do they do. You know the usual mother meddling stuff.”
“You are going to love him Mom – just wait until you get to know him,” responded Sarah as she and Sandra headed for the house with an arm full of hanging clothes.
Steve came up from the other side with as many hanging clothes as they had gotten. It seemed clothes everywhere.
“It continues to amaze me when women travel,” Steve exclaimed, “how many changes of clothes it takes to appease them. They change clothes 2 or 3 times a day and then they are not ready for bed after that.”
James joined in as he and John came up with the suitcases heading to the front door. “I am just learning although, my Mom was the same way,” said James.
“Sounds like you have a family like the rest of us,” stated John as he opened the door and held it so James could enter with his suitcases.
“From what I have seen so far, no different,” James laughed. “We seemed to made from the same pod.”
“Come on in,” shouted Steve, “John, show James to his bedroom and put Sarah’s suitcases in her room.” John looked quizzically at Steve who winked back.
“OK Dad, as you wish. Now James … are you going to say your family is still like our family?”
“Exactly,” laughed James, “When Sarah came over to my family’s home a month ago, she got the same treatment – separate bedrooms.”
“Oh,” asked John, “she has already visited with your family? That sounds like special Bolton family treatment.”
“Well my family lives in Knoxville,” answered James, “And I get to go home quite frequently when I am in school so yes, she went with me one weekend last month. They loved her.”
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Inquired John, “What line of work is your family in? I just got in myself yesterday afternoon and I haven’t heard a thing about you or your family.”
“Medicine, which is why I find I’m going in to the surgery field. My Dad is a great surgeon and when I finish my internship, he has promised me a position with him at General Hospital in Knoxville. He is the Chief of Surgery there.”
James continued, “My Mom is a Pharmacist at General Hospital and has been for over 30 years. That is where they met. She comes home every day at 5 and Dad is lucky some days to get to come home at all. But it is the life I want for myself – to help others.”
John responded, “Boy, I can identify with that. My deep question right now on the football field is who am I helping – no one but myself.”
John shared, “When your entire life is measured by the millions you can get playing pro-football that does not leave much to help others. I admire you and your choice. God bless you in that endeavor.”
“God bless me? Is that what you said?” asked James.
“Yes,” John unequivocally stated. “God bless you in that endeavor.”
“Well it takes more than God when you get in the surgical room – it takes skill, knowledge, and experience to pull some patients through their ordeal. That leaves very little room for God,” responded James.
“Well, don’t let it bother you that we are a very devoted Christian family here, Sarah included,” shared John. “We don’t push our Jesus on anyone. You want Him fine – you want to know how to know Him – I’ll tell you – you want to reject Him – that’s your choice.”
“I’ve never talked to someone so openly blunt and committed as you seem to be,” replied a questioning James, “Maybe we can take this conversation to a different level this weekend if we can find the time.”
“From what I have seen of your mom, time means little to her. The apple does not fall far from tree with Sarah. She’s the same way,” reflected James.
“Yep, while you are here this weekend, just watch Mom. You will know where you will be in 5 to 10 years with Sarah,” responded John.
John explained, “Dad has always managed though to get his way some of the time. That is a little ‘some’ of the time.”
John and James went into the living room where Steve was visiting with Sarah. “I have found out all I want to know about this ‘feller’,” laughed John, “And he’s acceptable to me.”
“Let’s go out on the patio,” declared Steve, “The weather is great today – even the sun is out. Sandra bring us some coffee out here or James if you want something a little stronger, I have it. John worries about his body so he does not partake.”
“Oh no, coffee is fine with me,” James matter flatly stated, “I too have to worry about my hands and alcohol is not a good mix for a future surgeon. Better I don’t get something started now that I would have to control later.”
“Makes sense to me, “said Steve, “I have seen many good men lose it because they could not control their drinking. You can’t get into too much trouble with coffee.”
Sandra brought their coffee and retreated to spend quality time with Sarah. She wanted to hear all about this James Bolton.
“Dad, James tells me he is following in his father’s footsteps,” recounted John. “His dad is the Chief of Surgery at General Hospital in Knoxville and his mom is a pharmacist with the hospital. That is how they met.”
“Wow, like father like son,” declared Steve. “That’s great – the acorn does not fall far from the tree huh?”
“You can see we also are a family filled with anecdotes and famous little quotes,” laughed John. “Dad gets going sometimes and you have to fight to stay up with him.”
“Fine with me – you ought to hear my Dad get turned loose when he is not thinking about surgery,” laughed James. “So y’all have been in banking for all of your lives.”
James lamented, “Sarah told me about your mom and dad. I am so sorry that happened. They must have meant a lot to the community.”
“They still do, the legacy lives on in Mom and Dad and the bank my grandparents founded,” replied John. “There’s little in Lebanon that does not have their touch somewhere.”
“I understand and I did not mean to lessen their impact on the community.” James did not mean to say the wrong thing, but every now and then; it just happens.
Quickly jumping the subject, James said, “Sarah told me they named the Senior Wellness Center after them. That speaks volumes of their legacy here in Lebanon.”
“What about you John? What happens in about 3 months when you graduate from big old National Championship Texas A&M? Are you looking at the NFL draft and the millions there?”
“Well you know you and I were talking in Sarah’s room. I agree with you and I want to do something meaningful with my life. I am not sure a football field is the place to do it,” answered John.
He explained, “Dad and I have talked and between you, me, and the fence post, I am thinking of doing what you did – follow in my father’s footsteps.”
“I am thinking of coming back Lebanon and go into banking with my Dad. That way I can help people just like he does with their business dreams or their dream home. Do something meaningful besides hit somebody on the field of play,” smiled John.
James said, “Boy you have got to have a passion to help people. I commend you to give up all fame and fortune on the field of play to do that.”
“And I am not talking about giving up dollars for banking as if banking is not a defined refined career field,” calculated James. “There he had done it again – said the wrong thing while thinking the right thing,” he thought.
James went on, “Don’t get me wrong, I am a great believer in being happy at what you are doing which is why I am in surgery; but I am not giving up millions to do surgery. I am glad I don’t have that decision to make.”
“Like you, I think I would still choose surgery but I would have to be faced with the choice to know for sure. Look at me, I am not even a part of the family and I am shooting off my mouth,” stated James.
James sheepishly admitted, “Who am I to give anybody advice. I have lived my entire life with a silver spoon in my mouth. My Mom and Dad gave me everything I ever wanted, cars, clothes, the best education, and a career field if I wanted it. I have never worked for anything. All I have ever done is to apply myself in my studies and decide that this is what I want to do.”
“Well, the last time I looked, it takes about 20 years to get into surgery,” said John. “So I think you might be selling yourself just a little short in saying you have never worked to get anywhere.”
Steve sat back. He listened to these boys go after it discussing their futures and what they want to do. It was wonderful to hear these young men go at it.
He thought, “Why could I have not been that smart when I was their age? They have so much more on the ball than I even wonder if I ever had.”
“Well, let’s just say that I am proud of both of you,” an elated Steve looking at his potential future son-in-law said. “And what you both have accomplished.”
“Since we are on that subject, Mr. Johnson …” started James. He was going to ask for Sarah’s hand in marriage.
Steve interrupted, “Call me Steve. Mr. Johnson was my Dad.”
“Steve,” James started over again nervously, “As you know your daughter and I are quite fond of each other. As a matter of fact, we love each other.”
“Sir, with your permission and John as a witness, will you give me your blessing to marry your daughter? I think she will say yes if I ask,” pleaded James.
`“Well … certainly, I will give you my blessing and welcome you in to the Johnson family with open arms,” Steve stood and moved toward James grabbing him as he stood up. He ‘hugged’ him with the Johnson hug into the family.
John shook hands with his to be new brother-in-law. “You better take good care of her is all I have to say, James,” recounted John.
“I have looked after her for many of her young years and now I am going to have to turn the reins over to you. She is a handful as you know,” he laughed.
“Now you are going to have to go from Mr. Johnson to Steve and now Dad,” said Steve, “That might take some time, but work on it.”
“OK, Dad, it does sound pretty good – huh?” stated James. Steve patted him on the shoulder and suggested they share the news with Sandra but not before James asked Sarah to marry him.
James pulled a small ring case from his pocket, “I had hoped that things might go this way and I came prepared. I am scared to death though.”
Steve asked, “What about your mom and dad? Won’t they want to be here when it happens?”
“I have already talked to them about it and they said it was more customary for the man to ask in the presence of the daughter’s family than the son in the presence of his family – ole school you know.”
“Well, then if you are ready, let’s get it on,” declared Steve. “No time better than now.”
“Mom, look they are coming inside,” said Sarah. “Did you see all that hugging out there a few minutes ago? Why did Dad hug James again – you think …?” and her voice trailed off.
“Oh, I can’t stand the suspense,” said Sandra. “Act normal as if nothing is happening.”
Sandra leaned back in her recliner and asked, “Well did y’all get all the world problems solved out there. You were out there long enough. Just like men. Men like to get off in a corner by themselves and leave the women out.”
She was bursting inside with excitement and anticipation, “Something was going to happen!” she just knew it. “They need to get the show on the road.”
James decided to get right with it before he lost his nerve. Kneeling down on one knee in front of Sarah, he proposed, “Sarah, I have talked with your father, and he has given me his blessing to ask for your hand in marriage.”
He continued in his most compassionate way, “I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you do the honor of becoming my wife?”
Sarah squealed, “Yes, yes, yes! Sure I will.”
James sprung from his knee and grabbed Sarah. They embraced and he kissed her. It was a touching moment.
“Thank God,” exclaimed James, “I was afraid you might say no or say you would have to think about it. You have made me the happiest man alive.”
“What do you think about your plans for marriage? Both of you finish in Kentucky this spring then it’s to Fort Worth. Would you want to consider getting married before you return to Fort Worth?” asked Sandra. Moms always move forward fast.
“I don’t know, we really haven’t talked about when. We have talked about getting married, but nothing really serious until now – you are serious aren’t you James?”
“You better believe it,” he shouted. “Oh, I forgot, I have a ring. Wait a minute; I have got to get back on my knee again to put it on your finger. Anybody got a camera or a cell phone to take a picture?”
About 3 cameras came up ready to shoot the picture. Steve, Sandra and John all had their phone cameras tuned and ready to go. James pulled the ring box from his pocket and got down on one knee and opened the box and presented the ring to Sarah.
“It’s beautiful, I love it,” shouted Sarah as James pushed the ring on her 3rd finger left hand.
“I did get the right finger didn’t I?” asked James. Everyone broke out laughing. James and Sarah hugged and kissed again.
“Look Mom,” shouted Sarah, “It is beautiful.” Sarah held out her hand for Sandra to see and then she went around the room dancing so that Steve and John could see it also.
“I am amazed at how you got my ring size. How you picked out such a beautiful ring?” surmised Sarah.
“Well, you remember when you went out with Barbara and Jane after school one day and you just happened to wind up in front of a jewelry store,” admitted James.
“Well, you did not just happen to wind up in front of the jewelry store by chance. It was planned from the beginning. The girls set you up. All of you picked out a ring you would love to have if you ever got your dream ring.”
He finished, “Every one measured their ring finger for luck if you remember. What you did not know is that all this was planned. They were going along with me so I could get what you wanted and the size you needed.”
“Well if their boyfriends ever decide they want to get married, they can go and get the ring they want and know their size too,” Sarah laughed.
“You are such a sneak! I would never have dreamed it of you, ‘Mr. so serious all the time’ – I love you!” exclaimed Sarah.
“We will need to think the wedding through with everyone involved. You, Mom, and Dad, need to come to Knoxville and meet James’ parents and we can discuss it then,” replied Sarah.
“The spring might be a good time but we will need to clear it with everyone before we get to far down the road. That way everybody will be on the same page.” said Sarah, “A June wedding might be nice and it would give us plenty of time to plan.”
“Oh, I have got to start making a list of relatives and friends that we want to invite and then there are the showers,” exclaimed Sandra,.
“Only God knows that I have been in everyone else’s showers. They can now come to my daughter’s wedding shower,” laughed Sandra.
Everyone laughed at the irony of Sandra’s planning before the actual date had been set. She already had people from all around coming. Steve could see dollars going out the window every time Sandra opened her mouth, but then he only had one daughter.
“Why not have a big wedding?” Steve thought. “My precious wife is going to take this one opportunity to have an unlimited budget for her one and only precious daughter to get married,” he calculated, “Knowing Sandra, this is going to cost me a bundle.”
The next morning, while the girls were sleeping in late, John and James got up early and after a cup of coffee, John decided to take a tour of Lebanon with James to show a little history behind Sarah and what she was all about.
Steve had gone in early to the bank for a meeting he could not miss.
John showed James where they went to school; where Sarah was a cheerleader for the football team; and the church where Mom and Dad always made sure they were in Sunday morning and Sunday evening.
Pulling onto the parking lot of the church, John declared, “This is also where Sarah was baptized, James. We love this church, and have been members here for decades.”
“What does it mean to be baptized, John?” asked James. He was curious.
“Well simply put – the physical nature of it is that you are ducked under water,” answered John, “but the meaning behind it is much deeper.”
John went on, “The spiritual meaning behind it is that you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and you are buried with Him in His death and raised to walk in newness of life with Christ.”
“What does it mean to be buried with Him in His death?” questioned James. “I don’t mean to be so nosy, but you can see, I know very little about these things.”
“James, God the Father wanted fellowship with His creation and in order for His creation – that being man and woman – to have real fellowship with Him; they had to be given free will to accept or to reject the Father.”
He continued, “Remember the other night, I told you could accept or reject – it was up to you. That is your free will to decide. But it is also your free will to sin against God. That sin process separates you from a Holy God.”
John explained, “The decision making process for a man can lead that man – given to his own whims – to choose evil or sin. Man left to his own whims will choose evil.”
John shared God’s Word, “James, Scripture says that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Too fall short is like shooting an arrow at a target and the arrow not reaching the target. Our sin causes us to fall short of the glory God wanted us to have.”
He continued, “God knowing that – sent His only begotten Son – Jesus to die as a sin offering once and for all for sins men choose – no other offerings would be made beyond the Son who became the supreme sacrifice for the sin of man.”
He explained, “But to have that eternal life with Christ; man has to believe that he IS a sinner; that Christ died on the cross for his sins; that Christ was raised on the 3rd day having made the supreme sacrifice for those sins.”
John concluded, “If we believe that and call on His name we can have eternal life with Christ in heaven when we die. That is the newness of life shared in Christ resurrection that baptism represents – it represents our new resurrected souls in Christ.”
John put the finishing touches on the plan of salvation, “James, you are going to have eternal life – the question is where will you spend it? Satan’s entire purpose is to keep you from understanding the love of Christ for you and your eternal soul.”
Ending, “If you reject Christ then you will spend eternity with satan. When you accept Christ, you will spend eternity with Him in heaven.”
“Understand one thing,” added John. “Accepting Christ does not mean that your life will automatically become a spiritual haven.”
“You will still face the same challenges you would have without Christ, The difference, now you can walk through these challenges with Christ,” shared John.
John looked at James and said, “As a new Christian, you will want to acknowledge your new birth in Him through His example of baptism of putting to death the old man – Jesus’ death on the cross – and being raised to walk as a new man in Christ – the resurrection from the dead.”
“From there you can grow in your new life by getting into a Bible believing church. You learn by studying the Word and applying the Scriptures to your life. You walk like a new spiritual born baby into a mature spiritual adult. Much like a new born baby becomes a full grown adult,” added John.
“No one expects a new Christian to just become a spiritual person overnight,” informed John. You grow in Christ.”
John finished, “It takes time, study, and practice to get it right. You do not become a surgeon overnight; it takes time, study and practice to get it right.”
John laid the decision on James, “When you decide that you might want to accept Christ, I can help you with that decision.”
John concluded, “Just keep in mind that it cost Christ His life on the cross and the decision is not to be taken lightly.”
“But then you did not decide to become a surgeon lightly either did you? It took a passion as you described to me last night as doing something for your fellowman,” acknowledged John.
John – feeling led by the Holy Spirit to let this message sink in with James – stated, “Now I will get off my Christian soapbox. Let me show you more of Lebanon.” He put the car I gear to move off the lot.
A solemn James touched John’s arm, “Hold it before you go. I want what you have. I have seen it in Sarah, I see it in your family and I see it in you. I want Jesus in my life as well.”
John stopped the car in the parking lot of the church again. He led James to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. When James looked up from praying and asking Jesus to come into his heart, you would have thought his world was bursting with joy. His eyes were glowing.
John said – emotionally feeling the impact of James’ decision, “Now I will give you a hug. Up until now it has been a manly shaking of the hand, but now it is a spiritual hug welcoming you into the body of Christ.”
John was excited for James, “When we get back, you can share it with the family if you wish. Then you and Sarah can find your own spiritual path to walk together in a church where you can serve as a Christian surgeon.”
“I would like that,” exclaimed James. “Thank you John. Not many would have shared with me as you have done. I don’t make friends easy so thank you.”
The rest of the morning was taken showing James the home place of Walter and Dessie Johnson. Behind, the home, John showed James the place where he and Sarah used to go fishing in the little creek. Never caught any fish but worked hard at doing it anyway.
The special place they would go to be alone when things were tough. Something happen at school or a friend get injured or die – it was a place of solitude to be alone with your thoughts.
James was beginning to understand just how special the young woman who was going to become his wife really was. He thought, “You can understand more about a person when you see where their roots begin.”
They drove back home in time for a quick lunch. Sandra said that she was planning a big dinner that evening and she did not want them to fill up on lunch. So she had cold cut sandwiches for lunch and soft drinks. Steve had come home for lunch.
As they bowed their head to pray. James interrupted, “There is something I want you to know before we pray.”
He was hesitant to go forward for fear of using the wrong words. He explained what had happened that morning was new to him, but he forced himself into a territory that was totally unfamiliar ground for him.
“This morning as John and I toured Lebanon, he shared with me how to become a Christian. I prayed and asked Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of my life.” The entire group was shocked except for John.
There was total silence and James thought, “Did I say something wrong?” He looked for support from John who only nodded and winked.
Then a total eruption from everyone as Sarah ran to him and grabbed him holding onto him tightly. She blurted out, “I so wanted you to accept Christ. I had wondered how I would be able to share with you. I wanted you to believe in the Jesus I know.” Sarah cried and hung on for joy.
Steve came around with Sandra. They had a group hug with James welcoming him into not only their physical family but now their spiritual family.
Steve toward John and John replied, “Don’t look at me – I’m hungry and you forget I had the privilege of leading him to Christ on the church parking lot this morning . I got my hug then.”
Returning to his seat, Steve held up his right hand and bowed his head along with everyone else at the table. He gave thanks for the food and for James’ entry into the kingdom of heaven through Jesus.
John grabbed the bread and baloney and went to work on the food. Soon everyone was engulfed in their food preparation and sharing the joy of James commitment to Christ.
Sarah wanted to know more details about how James came to know Jesus. “You know women,” laughed John, “details, details, details. It happened – aright! Let the boy eat.”
Sunday morning, James came to John before they left for church. He asked, “John, do you think that when we go to church this morning that I can be baptized the same way Sarah was?”
“Sure and not only that but you will be baptized in the same baptistery she was. I will call the pastor and set it up. I used to date his daughter. We are good friends. He would love to do it.”
John instructed, “Just take a change of clothes – something you don’t mind getting wet and I will be with you throughout the entire process. Hey don’t tell anyone else that you are going to do this. Let’s surprise ‘em!
John called Pastor Wilson and shared what James had done and his request to be baptized. The pastor was delighted that James wanted to follow Jesus in baptism and said it would be no problem as he was already baptizing the Jones twins today.
“Great, by the way, I have not heard anything about Sharon lately. How is she doing? Married and houseful of kids I assume?”
“No, she is not married and not even seeing anyone I don’t think. You know me; trying to keep up with the church and my family can be difficult. As a matter of fact she is working here in Lebanon for your dad at the bank. Sharon, Jody Carmichael and Allison McGraw work in Steve’s loan development department.”
“You’re kidding me, I did not know that,” John’s heart leaped. “Thanks, maybe I will see her at church this morning.”
“Oh yeah, you will see her. She is the lead singer for the choir special,” responded Pastor Wilson.
Instructing, “You know where to bring James after the worship service to get ready for baptism. Right?”
“Yeah as long as nothing has changed,” replied John, “We will be there and thanks.”
John was shocked, “Well what do you know – Sharon is not married and she works for his Dad at the bank. His mind went back to the times they had had together in school before he left for Texas A&M.
“Could it be,” he thought, “that time has not made a difference and she will be as glad to see me as I will be to see her?” Now his mind was whirling. He felt like a little 7th grader wondering if the prettiest girl in the class liked him.
If only he could find out somehow before he actually saw or talked to her. “But how can I make that happen? What if she does have someone and Pastor Wilson just does not know?”
Now he knew he was acting like a 7th grader. He would just have to man up and go right over to her after the service and talk to her. That would give him some idea of what he could expect from her after so long at Texas A&M.
John got ready for the Sunday service before everyone. He was hollering they have got to go before the girls even got their hair fixed.
Steve thought it was just John being John. James thought it was because he made arrangements for him to be baptized and they needed to get their earlier.
Either way – no one knew the real reason – Sharon Wilson – the pastor’s daughter – the prettiest girl in the 7th grade. John could not wait to see her.
John instructed James, “When we get to church bring the back pack with your clothes and just leave it by the pew where we sit. Then at the end of the service, I will go with you to show you where to go.”
He explained, “Pastor Wilson will give you some instructions on what baptism means for a Christian in the men’s dressing room. Don’t worry everything will go fine.”
Everyone arrived at the church. Steve found his usual pew and arranged to have everyone sit together.
John kept looking for Sharon, but she was nowhere to be seen. Just before the service began, the choir started filing in and there she was – in the middle of the choir on the front row.
His heart leaped into his throat. She was even more beautiful than he remembered.
“Pastor Wilson said she was not seeing anyone, but then he said to his knowledge – what does that mean – to his knowledge?” thought John, “Well, I will just have to find out after the service is over.”
Pastor Wilson preached a stirring message that morning, but John never heard a word he said. All he saw and remembered from the service was Sharon sitting in the choir – Sharon doing the lead for the choir special – and Sharon sitting in the choir. He could not take his eyes off of her – and Sharon sitting in the choir.
James bumped him as the service was coming to a close and whispered, “Aren’t we supposed to go somewhere? You do know what to do?”
“Oh yeah,” said John “Grab your back pack.” Steve and Sandra wondered what was going on along with Sarah. But with John you never know.
John and James went to the rear of the auditorium underneath the choir platform to the men’s changing room. “Pastor Wilson, this is James Bolton,” introduced John
He continued, “He is Sarah’s fiancé as of yesterday and as of yesterday, he accepted Christ right out here in the parking lot. He wants to be baptized in the same baptistery that Sarah was baptized.”
“James Bolton – you say – fine,” Pastor Wilson explained, “James, I will place a handkerchief over your nose - you just drop your knees about half way and I will lay you back – put your head under water and then bring you immediately back up.”
“I got it. And thanks Pastor. This means a lot to me,” said James.
Pastor Wilson briefly explained to James the meaning of baptism. He covered the same points as John had previously done.
The Pastor went up to the baptistery and introduced the Jones twins who were going to be baptized together first. He brought in the Youth minister to assist with one while he baptized the other himself.
Then he announced to the congregation that they had a special guest who has asked to be baptized in the same baptistery as his fiancée Sarah Johnson. He shared that James Bolton had accepted Christ in the parking lot yesterday and immediately wanted to be baptized.
The congregation applauded. Sarah and Steve along with Sandra were ecstatic. “Did you know this?” asked Sandra to Steve.
“No, no one told me but then that is not unusual. No one ever tells me anything,” he smiled.
Sandra then turned to Sarah, “How about you. Did you know this was going to happen?”
“No, it’s a complete surprise,” answered Sarah, “isn’t he a romantic at heart? He accepted Christ in my hometown and now not only is he being baptized here, but in the same baptistery I was baptized in. I am so proud of him and I love him so much.”
Everyone came around after the service. They congratulated Steve and Sandra on the engagement and James’ confession in Christ.
Mayor Jacobs said, “Get one in the family and then get one in the family – spiritual family – that is. It can’t get any better than that. This boy might be a keeper. Congratulations, Steve.”
John could not wait to find Sharon. But he had to stay with James while he got dressed. It seemed like James would never get dressed. Finally they made their way back up to the parking lot.
With the service over by that time, probably Sharon had already left for home or with someone. He saw Pastor Wilson and said, “I wanted to speak to Sharon, but it seems she has already left.”
“Have I?” came a voice from behind him. John wheeled around so fast, he almost fell. Grabbing Sharon, he gave her a big ole Aggie hug.
Course Aggies don’t have hugs – it’s against their tradition. But John could call it that if he wanted.
“Sharon, it is so good to see you. I thought I had missed you when it took my sister’s fiancé so long to get dressed.”
“You would not have missed me,” she said. “I saw you from the choir and you almost made me miss a note on the special.”
“Gosh,” started John, “I lost touch with you over the last year or so being so tied up with the football program at A&M, but that is over now. Your dad – Pastor Wilson – said you are working for my Dad at the bank. How long have you been at the bank?”
“I’ve been there going on two years,” answered Sharon, “I heard a couple of times that you had come into town and of course when your grandfather and grandmother were killed in that tragic accident.”
She stated, “I did not get to see you. You were tied up with family matters.”
She responded, “You’re looking good – all filled out. Course you were always filled out.”
“We need to catch up – are you seeing someone,” John asked almost afraid of the answer and moved quickly to the next question, “Can you go to lunch with me?”
“Right now?” asked Sharon. “That’s to your question about going out to eat and to the answer to the first question – is no – I am not seeing anyone.”
“Well, yes … unless I would be taking you away from your family or something you have to do?” asked John, “I have so much I want to tell you.”
“No, I’m free, replied Sharon, “Just let me go tell Mom and Dad they can go on without me.” Sharon left to find her Mom or Dad.
John was so elated he was about to burst. “Just wait until I tell her that I am coming back to Lebanon to live and work with Dad at the bank too,” thought John.
“Oh, I hope that does not put any pressure on her to think that we ought to start seeing each other again. I would love it but I need to let nature take its course and work this out slowly.
He thought with a devilish mind, “Don’t hurt to push though does it? We had such a great relationship; I don’t know why I ever let her get away. Maybe this is my second chance and I am not going to mess it up again.”
John did have a concern, “I don’t want to cause any concern on her part with Jody. They will have to know that I am coming back as an employee and not the president’s son. Maybe I should not tell her that until I get back.”
And he had other concerns. “Then again there is the bank – what will Dad say about employees dating?”
“Well if he has a policy, this is going to be one time I am going to use the Son-Card on him. Hallelujah!” he almost shouted out loud.
“Wow, could it be possible after 4 years to get back together?” John was excited. He informed his Dad and Mom they were going to lunch out.
Sharon came back and they got into John’s car and went to Ruby Tuesday’s for lunch. He had so much to share with her. He hoped that she would be as enthused to hear as he was to tell her. That would mean she still had some interest in him.
John and Sharon hit it off at lunch on Sunday, and it was almost like the rest of the family did not matter after that. They were together for the full time for the balance of his visit – either with the family – or apart from the family – it did not make any difference – they were together again period.
Sarah and James left Monday to return to school. James had some lab work to catch up on.
Sarah was looking forward to getting with her sorority sisters to share the good news of their engagement. Plus now she had a wedding to plan for possibly in June.
Steve and Sandra sent them off in the Johnson family style. She packed enough food for a month for them to eat on the way back. Steve made sure James had plenty of money for gas for the return trip.
John changed his flight to leave the first thing Tuesday morning. It meant his Dad would have to get up at 5 to get him to the airport on time.
“But that’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to have one more day with Sharon,” he thought. “She seemingly is interested in getting back together. Wow this is great.”
John left for A&M to finish his degree. Those next few months were going to seem like eternity until he could get home again to see Sharon.
“Who knows, maybe they could do a double wedding in June with James and Sarah,” thought John. He was the happiest he had been in a long time.
Then he realized, he had not ask Sharon to marry him, “Am I moving to quick. I might need to take this thing slow to be sure she will want to get married.”
Steve and Sandra remembered their relationship in high school. They thought time might had taken its toll on their passion for each other. But it only made it more vigorous.
When Sharon was first brought into the bank, Steve had not remembered that John had dated her in high school. He had forgotten about John’s interest in her.
That would not have affected his decision as her credentials made her a candidate for employment. “And she was doing a terrific job for the bank,” he reasoned.
But now this rekindling of a romance seemed in full force. When it became evident that the separation had only caused the heart to grow fonder – Steve embraced it wholeheartedly.
Steve thought, “Maybe I will have a connection with the Pastor of the church now. The next time we go into a building program and he wants to sell bonds, I am the man. Man … o-man …, how these things do work out!”