Lead Me Home ~ Excerpt
Shiloh Wilson Griffin blew into the delicate instrument one last time, and its mournful notes curled through the air like white smoke snaking its way into oblivion. The music flowing from the recorder was hollow and wistful—a perfect reflection of her emotions today, and every year on this date, August 13.
“Her Song,” as Shiloh had titled the piece, wasn’t long. It was a repetitive melody she played over and over, until it seeped into her soul and settled in her bones, where the pain had been lodged for what felt like forever. In many ways, eighteen years could be considered forever. So it caught her off guard when she stumbled over a few notes this morning. That had never happened, not once since she wrote and played this song on the first anniversary of this date. The simple mistake rattled her.
Shiloh lowered the instrument to her side and peered into the inky darkness of her backyard. Minutes later, she turned away from
the wall of windows and laid the recorder on an ottoman that doubled as a coffee table. She glanced at the small round clock hanging
above the entrance to the sunroom. Great. She had fifteen minutes before alarms began pinging and chiming, feet hit the floor, echoes of
“Mommy” or “Mom” filled the house, and everyone simultaneously needed her.
Shiloh sidestepped the ottoman and knelt in front of the sofa. She lowered her head onto her clasped hands. Her shoulder-length, charcoal black hair swung forward and framed her round ebony face like a stage curtain. She wanted to pray but couldn’t focus. The familiar
questions kept intruding.
Will this be the year I stop feeling guilty? Or lose the shame?
Shiloh sighed and silently answered herself in the same breath: No, and no.
No matter how much restitution she paid with every word and deed, her blood-stained hands could never really be clean, even if no
one else knew they were dirty.
First she had stumbled over the notes to “Her Song.” Now, she felt tongue-tied. What could she pray differently, or more persuasively, this year than she had all the years before? Did she really have the right to be burden-free—forgiven for her ancient decisions? The
answer came as readily as it should for a preacher’s wife and pastor’s daughter: God forgives any sin that one is truly sorry for committing.
Her heart wanted to accept that truth, but her mind kept circling back to the reality that life, and a person’s choices, didn’t always yield
What if I knew I was wrong? What if I didn’t care about anyone but myself?
Those questions looped through Shiloh’s mind, and no matter how much she willed the words that matched her persistent regret to
flow, they eluded her. Shiloh rarely noticed the tick-tock of the clock, but this morning, it sounded like a gong, pressuring her to hurry. In
five minutes, the once-a-year opportunity she gave herself to plead for God’s peace would be a wrap.
Before she could nudge herself into action, the faint beeping of one of the boys’ alarm clocks forced her surrender. She lifted her
head, sat back on her heels, and scanned her surroundings to pinpoint everything she needed to tuck away. The recorder had to be put in its
case and returned to the corner with her flutes; the candle must be extinguished and placed in its usual spot on the kitchen counter; and
the three-by-five frame next to the candle, which bore seven words she couldn’t risk anyone else ever reading, should be hidden until
this time next year, when she pulled it out for the nineteenth annual commemoration.
Shiloh pushed herself up by the palms of her hands and swiftly put things away. Within minutes, she’d have coffee percolating and
oatmeal simmering for Randy, various cold cereals on the table for her four hungry boys, and a cheerful smile fixed on her face when all
of them came trotting downstairs and delivered the hugs and kisses she demanded. Good thing they couldn’t see her heart this morning;
it would give her away. Her silent tears would go unnoticed, as usual, and she was thankful.
By the time Shiloh shooed Lemuel, Omari, Raphael, and David out of the house and to their summer camp carpools, she had decided what to wear to breakfast with Dayna. She placed the last bowl from breakfast in the dishwasher and grabbed an apple to stave off the hunger her rumbling stomach announced. Usually, she ate with the family; if she didn’t munch on something now, she’d be gobbling up everything in sight by the time she reached downtown Milwaukee.
Shiloh trotted upstairs to her bedroom and, mindful for the second time this morning of the ticking clock, strode to her closet to find
the dress she had in mind. Dayna probably had a marathon slate of workshops and receptions to attend, and Shiloh had no doubt that the
eldest Wilson sister would be looking her best. Her personal status of stay-at-home mom, part-time flute teacher, and Baptist church First
Lady didn’t require tailored business suits, and Shiloh feared that her Sunday best might be out of place in a corporate setting. Even so, she
located her tried-and-true black sheath with cap sleeves and grabbed a pair of black, two-inch heels from her shoe rack.
After a quick shower, she pulled her hair up into a long, sleek ponytail and stepped into the knee-length dress. Her full hips and
rounded backside caused her to tug a little, but according to Randy, there was nothing to complain about. As if on cue, he entered the
bedroom while she was trying to zip the back of the dress with one hand.
“Well, where are you headed this morning, Mrs. Glamorous? You can’t be meeting with the ladies from the prayer ministry, dressed like
He approached her from behind and finished the job, then encircled her in a hug and kissed her neck.
“Watch it, Reverend,” Shiloh teased. “You’ve already got four sons to send to college.”
The joke she uttered to keep things light between them stung, given the anniversary she’d commemorated before sunrise. She forced
herself to focus.
“Breakfast with Dayna, remember? She flew in last night for the hospital association conference I told you about.”
“Remind me why she isn’t staying with us?”
Shiloh shook her head.
“Too many meetings to commute out here. She has a full schedule, which is why I’m going downtown to meet her. She may try to
sneak away tomorrow evening to come out and see the boys, though.”
Randy released his grip.
“Well, tell her I said hello, and welcome to Milwaukee. I’m heading over to the church. Got a meeting with Vic in an hour.”
Shiloh peered at him through the dresser mirror, but his expression left her clueless.
Randy shrugged. “Same as usual. He doesn’t like being second in command or being told what to do, instead of doing the telling. I
keep reminding him that we are working on the same team, for the same God.”
Shiloh stretched past Randy to grab a coral shawl from a nearby chair, and patted his arm. Who knew competition like this existed
among pastors, especially two who were supposedly leading a congregation together? Daddy had pastored his church in Atchity, Alabama for so long, Shiloh couldn’t recall him feeling threatened or challenged by other ministers under his charge. Randy kept reminding her that
despite their nearly two-year tenure at St. Stephens Baptist Church, he was still considered “the new guy.”
Vic had an advantage as a lifelong Milwaukee resident and member of St. Stephens Baptist. It didn’t seem to matter that Randy had overseen long-awaited renovations to the sanctuary or that since his tenure as senior pastor, attendance and membership had increased significantly; some in the already-large congregation were still upset that their beloved Vic remained the full-time second in command.
“Hang in there, babe.” Shiloh kissed him before grabbing her purse off the bed and trotting down the stairs.
“You do the same,” Randy called after her. “Don’t come home after breakfast wanting to change who you are. You are perfectly fine.”
Shiloh didn’t respond, but she cringed at the realization that Randy knew most of her insecurities well enough to head them off before they took hold of her. She appreciated his support, but what if he had seen her this morning, before sunrise, trying to pray away her demons? She had a feeling if he knew about that Shiloh, he wouldn’t be referring to her as perfect or fine. The words that he’d likely use
instead made her want to cry again.