I don’t know how many more years of this I have left in me.
As the gleaming, royal blue, Challenger 604 jet—complete with large, antique gold crests emblazoned on its sides—ascended into the late afternoon sky, Bishop James Collins sank deep into his custom leather chair and closed his weary eyes. Whoever said preachers didn’t do anything but get up and talk for an hour twice a week, didn’t have a clue about full-time
ministry. It was some serious round-the-clock work!
The Bishop planned to take advantage of the short flight and get a well-deserved nap. Over the previous two years, he’d cut back his traveling and this was one of those days he remembered why.
See, the average person has the luxury of being critical of preachers like him because they don’t realize just how draining the preparation and preaching part of ministry happens to be. Not to mention the prayer lines that usually follows a service and the stress of maintaining the business side of a church. There were nights when he laid hands on literally thousands of people, only to realize once arriving back at his hotel that there was yet another fire to put out at home—all before he could even think of going to sleep. Sure, the burden was on God to speak through him, but James was still just a vessel made of flesh; flesh that got older and more weary by the
Initially James limited his travel because frankly, he missed his home church. He felt disconnected when he was away too often and though it was a weakness, he liked to be as hands on as possible even with a more than capable staff to handle things. His congregation was filled with thousands of sons and daughters—spiritual children—who for the most part he didn’t even know in passing, let alone personally. Sure, he would recognize the consistent familiar faces over the years, but he really didn’t know them the way a father should. He wanted to interact more, spend out-of-church casual time with them, and minister to each of them on a personal level. Unfortunately, this was far from practical. James often tried to concoct ways to increase his hands-on exposure with his church members, but between scheduling and security issues, it was virtually impossible. He was just one man. Yet he often felt so distant from them. It was a burden he carried in his heart.
People were prone to forget that he was a pastor first and not just a conference keynote speaker. There were months it honestly felt as if everyone outside of Abiding Grace Christian Church wanted a piece of him. Even after turning down hundreds of invitations a year, there were still just as many that he granted, and the hustle and bustle of travel was getting to him. No matter how many stars the hotel had, nothing came close to his own bed with his own mattress, his own pillow and better yet, his wife, Victoria.
Every joint and muscle ached and he couldn’t wait to get home and soak in a hot, Epsom salt bath. But before he could do that, the first thing he had to do after landing is sit in on some interview his wife was giving. If she hadn’t asked him to do it some time ago he would have begged off of it but she was everything to him—his jewel—and he couldn’t bring himself to
disappoint no matter how tired he was. Plus, James didn’t want to give the media any cause to suspect there could be trouble brewing in the Collins home. They often took small things, like a temporarily absent spouse, and ran with them as if it were a crime to be out of town or working.
James drifted off into much needed slumber.
James opened a bleary, sleep-deprived eye and stared sharply at the dark skinned, handsome young man stooped down in front of him. He hoped his look conveyed ‘leave me alone’ but the young man remained unmoved.
“I just wanted to know if you needed anything…”
“Yes… some sleep!” James grumbled.
He tried to have patience with his adjutant but sometimes the boy could work his last good nerve. He wanted to slip back into sleep mode but the interruption irked him to the point that he just had to address it. With an exaggerated sigh, he said, “Son…”
“What’s my name?”
“Bishop James Elliott Collins Sr., Sir.”
James groaned inwardly at the stiff military-type delivery of the reply. He resisted the childish temptation to mock the young man by repeating it the same way that it was delivered. Still he had to get the boy straight.
“No… what do you call me?”
That was all it took to rouse him completely. James sat up straight in his chair sending his pillow tumbling to the floor. He looked at his assistant who’d seated himself diagonally across the narrow aisle. The young man was tall, at 6’2 standing only an inch shorter than James, and from his closely cropped hair down to his shined shoes, possessed a military bearing that decried formality. His large brown eyes were framed in long luxurious eyelashes that, depending on his expression, made him appear younger than his twenty-three years. James sighed. The boy wanted to please him so much. His own little Elisha wanting to carry Elijah’s mantel but not quite
able to fit it yet because he was always trying too hard.
He doesn’t get it.
Lee, his right-hand-man in training, was the consummate servant who was always on duty twenty-four seven. In public, when it really counted, he was the perfect adjutant: consistently on point, never missing a beat, and faithfully anticipating James’ needs, carrying them out with speed and excellence. He was flawlessly able to ‘flow’ no matter the venue or the hour. However, in private, he still had a few things to learn. Lee took himself and his role in ministry way too seriously—to the point of being strangely unsettling to those around him. He hadn’t learned
how to relax, how to enjoy life, how to separate home from the office or how to simply be. That was very dangerous and easily caused ministry burnout in people. James saw it happen time and time again over the years and tried to explain it so the young man wouldn’t fall prey to it. Unfortunately, he might as well have been talking to himself because the boy either failed to understand him or didn’t believe him.
“What is your name?”
“Boy, you mean to tell me that you don’t know your name either?!” James was doing all he could not to appear exasperated but it wasn’t working. How could any one person be so intelligent yet still so dense?
“My name is James Elliott Collins, Jr., Sir.”
“Oh…so you do know your name!” James laughed in recognition of the ridiculous nature of their conversation. “So who am I?”
“Bishop Collins.” The young man replied with a furrowed brow and anxious eyes.
“Lee…” He warned with more than a little agitation in his voice. “Okay… let’s try this one more time. Who am I?”
“You don’t know? Are you sure? Is there something I need to know? Do I need to call your momma and have an uncomfortable conversation?”
Lee laughed at himself now. He felt really silly.
New products are coming soon!
The Bishop had asked him a simple question and he failed to reply properly because he thought his mentor was about to expound on some deep spiritual revelation like when Jesus asked Peter, “Whom do men say that I am?” Instead, the
answer his father was looking for was obvious.
“You’re my Dad!”
“Exactly and I will always be your dad long after I am no longer your pastor or your Bishop or whatever else they come up with to call me. Remember that and relax for God’s sake! You’re giving me the willies!”
James shivered for emphasis. He still wasn’t satisfied that his son truly understood what he was trying to convey so he took a deep breath and extended his forefinger which was a sure sign to his son that his father was preparing to launch into another lecture on life again. Lee tried to cut him
off at the pass to avoid hearing it.
“Yes sir,” he quickly replied hoping doing so would shut his father up. He looked away to insure the conclusion of their conversation.
The boy was so formal. James didn’t know where he got that mess from. It sure wasn’t his side of the family. James looked at his son intently from across the aisle as Lee avoided his gaze by looking out of the window. He knew that look. His son’s eyes appeared heavy, almost closed, with his long upper eyelashes coming just short of touching his cheeks and the middle of his top lip sucked in. That was the I have disappointed Daddy look he perfected as a toddler. James knew he was probably trying to think of a way to make it right. He was too old to draw his father pictures in order to say he was sorry anymore and, in truth, James didn’t want anything from him except to see him set free of whatever kept him so wound up. He decided to let him off the hook a little.
“S…” Lee smiled, catching himself before he was reprimanded again. “Yes, Dad?”
“Do you know why I call you Lee?”
Lee, determined to have the right answer this time, answered quickly. “Because I have your name and calling me Lee was a way to tell us apart if someone was talking to us when we were both at home.” He was so confident in his answer this time that he drew the words out in an almost singsong fashion.
“Ok… so then what does your mother call you?”
Lee looked out the window again and pouted slightly as he mumbled, “Jamie.”
James grinned. He knew his son hated that name but his mother started calling him that almost right away and it had been hard for her to stop even after Lee got older and no longer liked it.
“So why do you think I call you Lee again?”
Lee kept looking out the window at the white clouds that encircled the small aircraft and the patches of freckled land beneath them. He was ready for this interrogation to be over with. He wished he’d never disturbed his father even if it did seem like a good idea at the time. He hadn’t thought it through. Sometimes he could screw up royally without even trying. He
should have known what would happen if he bothered his father when he was sleeping and now he was going to have to suffer through it.
He wanted to reply with, “Which story this time?” but instead said, “I honestly don’t know dad. I guess I never thought much about it since Chris and Caleb call me Lee too. It’s not that big of a deal.”
“They picked that up from me.” James replied with a considerable amount of pride. “And it is that big of a deal.”
With the jet having leveled out and the remain seated sign extinguished, James unbuckled his seatbelt and slipped through the aisle to sit beside his oldest son. That was one of the perks of having your own jet—every seat was yours and you could sit wherever you liked, whenever you liked.
“Lee, do you even remember when I started calling you that?”
Lee shook his head no and met his father’s intense gaze as he waited with polite curiosity for the answer. Bishop Collins sat back and began talking with a faraway look in his eyes as if he were seeing everything playing out in front of him as he spoke.
“I didn’t think you would. You were still kinda small.” He grinned. “Before you were born, we picked out all kinds of names for you. Most of them were biblical. You know how that goes. You were almost named after all the major and minor prophets and half of the apostles!” He laughed as he remembered him and his wife’s innocent, albeit ignorant, and overzealous mindsets back then.
“You know we were all deep and spooky full of the Word but lacking a grain of common sense.” James continued. “Then here you come. Your mother took one look at you and called you James. I was totally against it because I didn’t want a junior. I didn’t want my son to feel like he had to be a carbon copy of me. I wanted my son to be his own man, an independent
thinker.” James paused as he vividly remembered the first time he saw his son’s tiny wrinkled face. “But then I looked at you and was like WOW! I couldn’t deny that you were the spitting image of me.”
Lee smiled broadly revealing large, perfectly straight, white teeth just like his father’s and James was almost certain that he sat up a little straighter.
“Your grandparents were at the hospital too and when they saw you, they had the same reaction. Everyone was gung ho about calling you Lil’ James and eventually after a little convincing from your Grandpa Edsel, I got on board too.”
Lee sat forward expectantly and listened to a part of his history that he’d never heard before.
“By the time you were two, you were my shadow. My God, you even walked like me! Everything I did, you did.” James started laughing as he fondly remembered his son’s clumsy attempts to copy him.
“You wanted to wear your Sunday suit every day because I wore a suit to work every day. You’ve seen the pictures. We didn’t do that to you, man! You did it to yourself! You even wanted a part in your hair like I used to have. You would cry if we didn’t give you one, too!”
James eyed his son and couldn’t help chuckling again. Some things hadn’t changed. Although his son’s Brooks Brothers attire was a far cry from his own tailored, high fashion, signature suits, the resemblance was still undeniable. They had the same complexion, the same defined
cheekbones, and the same almond shaped eyes. Their height and slight build were very similar and so was their shoe size. Everything down to their smile was identical. The only difference was that Lee had his mother’s grade of hair and for that James was grateful. His son’s large silky curl pattern didn’t require the constant grooming that his did. If James ever
missed a haircut, he’d instantly look like he had starter dreadlocks. There was a little of Victoria in Lee’s face as well but James’ fingerprint was all over him and that made them both proud.
Moore does a good job bringing out the personalities and culture of her character’s environment. The use of traditional African American dialect is used not to be profane or show ignorance, rather it is indicative of the normal conversational language of the culture. She also does a good job showing how the mega church culture is more than just a church, it is a life style for those that their entire lives revolve around the church.
Thomas Anderson / The Hungry Monster Book Review
I’m not a Christian, so the fact that I enjoyed reading Hidden In Plain Sight Sharon Moore says a lot.
I loved reading this right from the beginning till the very end. I especially enjoyed reading about Pastors and Bishops as it was a really unique experience for me. I’m generally a reader of thrillers, mysteries and dark fiction, but reading this beautiful book was a great change in pace and I enjoyed it for the very same reason.
The writing was really good and had a really easy flow that made this book a surprisingly quick read. The plot had a unique simplicity and a depth that made reading this even more enjoyable. I was drawn into this book right from the beginning and was left craving for more at the end. It ended perfectly and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end this amazing story.
Heena Rathore P. / The Reading Bud
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think Sharon does a wonderful job with her character development. I felt that I was able to see into and understand the journeys of all the main characters, and what makes them 'tick.' Secondyl, much like beloved TV series such as Parenthood, Scandal, This Is Us, etc., Sharon provided several people whose stories I could get lost in, rather than just focusing on one or two main people. Lastly, this one was a page turner! From the relational twists and turns to the main mysteries of the novel, she kept the pace so steady and great.
Danielle- Amazon Review
This is a strong but engaging novel that presents a hopefully rare but still present underside to the Christian church. It is a story that weaves multiple generations and interconnections between parallel churches that on the one hand offer the Gospel but at the same time hide undercurrents of pain and tension that I suspect are more common than some of us may realize.
Dr. Dennis - Amazon Review
I stayed up all night trying to finish it because I kept wondering what was going to happen next. It kept my attention the entire way through, which is hard to do.
Robyn Wright - Amazon Review
This was a well-written, fast-paced novel with a weel-developed plot and credible characters. Even though I have no affinity with church or religion, it was such an intelligent and interesting story that it captivated my attention from beginning to end.
Ex-Ray - Amazon Review
“Anyway, people kept telling me that it was perfectly normal for you to want to be like me but the last thing I wanted was a Xerox copy of myself. That was the one thing that constantly ate at me. I think I called you everything during those first years: Junior, Lil’ James, Elliott, JC… and then one day Lee just came out and I liked it because it was something I’d never been called. Somehow I felt it made you different. It separated me from you and gave you your own identity. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
Lee understood. He sat back in his seat and began looking out his window again. He saw everything and nothing. It was the same conversation they’d had many times before. Each time his father came at him a different way but the ending was always the same. He sat in silence for a while and when he finally turned back, his father was leaning forward
and watching him, hopeful. He hated when his father did that. It never failed to make him jump.
“Dad, this is who I am!” Lee searched for the right words to say but he couldn’t seem to put them together in a way that not only expressed how he felt, but once and for all convinced his father of their legitimacy. Sensing his building frustration, James sat back in his seat and patiently waited while his son attempted to make his point.
“Yes, I love and respect you, but I’m not trying to be you. Your example is one of the reasons I want to go into ministry. I’m trying to learn all I can from you but I really am being me—just me! This is who I am. This is who I’ve always been. I don’t know how else you want me to be
other than me. I’m being the best me I know how.”
His voice trailed off as he realized he didn’t have any more words to drive his point home and didn’t want to risk being any more redundant. There was no need to provoke his father into another lecture on his communication skills or the lack thereof.
James looked into his son’s deep brown eyes pleading for understanding. He reached over and gave his first born a strong, meaningful hug that temporarily buried Lee’s face into his father’s shoulder. It was his way of letting Lee know that he loved him regardless. Just as
quickly, James pulled away from his boy so that he could look into his naïve face again.
“Oooookay. I’ll drop it.”
With that, James sat back into the chair again. He found a comfortable resting position and closed his eyes. He returned to trying to relax his mind and reclaim his sleep. For a while, everything was silent except for the hum of the aircraft and the low voices of his traveling staff who sat in the front of the cabin.
James didn’t want to push his oldest son any further—at least not anymore that day. But the boy was beginning to make him nervous. He had hoped he would have seen more progress in him by now. He’d already publicly declared Lee the heir of his ministry but God forbid something should happen to him or Victoria anytime soon. Lee just wasn’t ready to
take over. Not even remotely close to being ready. How could his son be entrusted with the reigns of Abiding Grace Christian Church if he couldn’t even trust himself to relax and live? James had considered sending Lee to aid a pastor in one of the churches that was birthed from and now came under the umbrella of AGCC but he ultimately knew that wouldn’t help the situation. He knew that Lee would probably be given preferential treatment just because of who his father was and that was the last thing that boy needed.
What Lee did need was to be toughened up a little. He needed to be placed straight into the fire so that his own character and methodology could emerge to maturity. He wanted Lee to find his own path, his own specific anointing, and to stop following him step for step, word for word. James was at a loss about what to do and had been for some time yet every
time he came face to face with the matter, it gnawed at him as if it were the first time he’d ever thought about it.
When Lee and Alecia got married in January, James just knew that his firstborn would mature into more of a solid, independent man. That seemed to be wishful thinking. In a sense, Lee married the female version of himself. Apparently the power of the marriage bed hadn’t affected either one of them. They were both more humanoid than human.
James really didn’t have anything to complain about. He was grateful for everything, including his robotic son. He had a good life, an excellent wife, and wonderful children. All three of his children were honor roll students all through school and all were virgins—well, at least Lee was up until January.
James couldn’t help smiling at the thought of his prudish perfect son in an intimate setting. Now that was funny! James had tried to tease Lee about his marriage bed before the wedding but Lee looked so shocked and horrified that James left him alone. He was just trying to make sure the boy knew what to do. Thinking about this, James couldn’t resist needling his
son one more time.
“When am I going to be a grandfather?”
James could feel his son blushing and he loved it. He opened his eyes a fraction just in time to see the telltale rosy flush creeping up Lee’s neck and hear him nervously shuffling his feet. He elbowed him in the arm to drive his point home.
“Y’all are working on it, right?”
“Daaad,” Lee whined.
He was so easily embarrassed sometimes and James took a sick pleasure in harassing him. All he wanted to do was loosen his son up. The thought of those two robots reproducing was hilarious. What would they have?! A microchip? He’d already vowed to do all he could to make sure his first grandchild wouldn’t be… well… like his or her stiff parents.
“Huh?” James asked innocently.
“We’ve only been married two months! You were the one that counseled us that we didn’t need kids right away!”
“Oh yeah. I did, didn’t I? Well…y’all hurry up and make something happen while I can still be a cool grampie!”
With that James rose dramatically, slid over to the sofa across the aisle from his son, and stretched out on it to finish his nap. Lee groaned, laughed, and pulled out a book to read.
“Wake me just before we land so I can freshen up for your mother’s thing.”
James’ eyebrow went up and he sharply opened one eye only to catch his son struggling to withhold the smile trying to form on his full lips as he pretended to be interested in the book in front of him.
Well at least he has a sense of humor, James thought as he relaxed and finally drifted off to sleep, his dreams filled with things past and present.