Gold Pen Award–winning author ReShonda Tate Billingsley returns to the Houston congregation of her #1 Essence magazine bestseller, Let the Church Say Amen, in this warm and powerful sequel.
When her husband hears God’s call to become a preacher, Rachel Jackson Adams is distressed—she grew up a preacher's daughter, and knows how difficult life under the microscope can be for a reverend’s family. But hot-headed Rachel has toned down her wild ways, and for the sake of her marriage and her two children, she is now the reluctant first lady of Zion Hill, unafraid to rock the boat with her unconventional ideas for revitalizing the church. When her son, Jordan, begins fighting at school, Rachel turns to the boy’s father, Bobby—Rachel’s first love from years ago. Married now himself, there should be nothing between them except their concern for Jordan—so why does seeing Bobby again feel so distractingly tempting? With her brothers facing dramas of their own, and her father, Reverend Simon Jackson, recovering from illness, Rachel must listen carefully to discover what God truly wants for her—and to decide if Bobby is the lover of her dreams or the devil in disguise
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s #1 nationally bestselling novels include Let the Church Say Amen, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and Say Amen, Again, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Her collaboration with Victoria Christopher Murray has produced four hit novels, Sinners & Saints, Friends & Foes, A Blessing & a Curse, and Fortune & Fame. BET released a movie in 2013 based on ReShonda’s book Let the Church Say Amen in which she had a minor role. She also had a role in the made-for-TV movie The Secret She Kept based on her book of the same title. Visit ReShondaTateBillingsley.com, meet the author on Facebook at ReShondaTateBillingsley, or follow her on Twitter @ReShondaT.
Read an Excerpt
If looks could kill, Lester Adams would definitely be pushing up daisies.
Rachel glared at her husband and silently played her mantra in her head: Do not act a fool. You are a strong, mature woman who has left those childish ways behind you. Whatever you do, do not act a fool.
That had been Rachel's theme for the last five years, and had helped her out of numerous situations. It wasn't working today.
This fool must be on crack. Rachel inhaled deeply. "What did you just say?"
Lester got up and began his usual pacing as he tried to explain to his wife the reasoning behind his decision.
"It's not like this is something I just want to do on a whim," he said.
Rachel massaged her temples. She had done so well at walking the straight and narrow since she'd tied the knot. Marrying Lester had been the best decision she had ever made. He kept her grounded. No, he wasn't the most handsome thing, but he loved her unconditionally, and that love had made her want to be a better woman. But what he was saying now was absolutely insane.
"I talked this over with your father and he's pleased with the decision," Lester added nervously.
Rachel remained at a loss for words. She stared at her husband. The red pimples were gone from his sandpaper-colored skin thanks to Proactiv, and she'd convinced him to shave off the red mop that had sat on his head for years. Now he wore a closely cropped fade. Right about now, though, she wished she could grab that head of hair and shake some sense into him.
"Baby, I know you don't understand this." Lester sat down next to her. She immediately stood up. It was her turn to pace their spacious three-bedroom apartment.
"You're right. I don't," she said. "I don't believe you're standing here telling me this."
"Come on. You act like I'm telling you I had an affair or something," Lester tried to joke.
"I think I might be able to handle that better than this." Rachel shot him a look to let him know she wasn't joking.
Lester sighed. "Rachel, when the Lord calls, He calls. This is my destiny. You know how I've been telling you I was tired of insurance and felt I had a greater calling. Well, this is it."
Rachel spun on her husband. "A preacher, Lester? You want to be a preacher? Even worse, you want me to be a preacher's wife?" She stared at him as if that was the absolute craziest thing she'd ever heard.
"That's exactly what I want, Rachel."
Rachel cocked her head in confusion. "What makes you think those people at Zion Hill -- 'one of the most prominent churches in Houston,' as they like to boast -- will let you be their preacher anyway?"
"Come on. After Reverend Wright got arrested in the pulpit, I think the board wants someone safe like me."
She could understand that much. That whole situation had been a fiasco. Deacon Wright had finally gotten his wish a year ago when Rachel's father, Rev. Simon Jackson, had stepped down as pastor of Zion Hill. The deacon was able to get his nephew, Milton Wright, in as the church's new preacher. The only problem was that Reverend Wright never informed anyone of his outstanding warrants for hot checks -- more than fifty thousand dollars' worth.
The police had come and arrested him right in the middle of Sunday morning service. Wright had taken off running right in the middle of the sermon with the police chasing him all the way down the street. It was a nightmare that took Zion Hill months to live down.
But what Rachel couldn't understand was why her husband had to be the replacement. "Since when did you even want to be a preacher? Besides, you haven't been to theology school or anything."
Lester sighed in frustration. "Not every minister is trained in the Word. For some, it's just a calling."
"You really think those people at Zion Hill will let somebody with no experience be their preacher?"
"I've been a member of that church since I was born, Rachel. They support what I'm doing wholeheartedly. They know me and they don't have to worry about any mess like what happened with Reverend Wright. And it's not like I'll just jump in the pulpit. Your father has agreed to mentor me. I can also take part in a six-week theological seminar. And I'll work closely with the deacon board."
"Lester, this is insane." Rachel tried to reason with him. "You can't possibly want this. Is this some early midlife crisis or something? If so, go buy a motorcycle or get a tattoo."
"Rachel, if you half paid attention to me you'd know that I have always felt something was missing in my life! I've been praying on it and meeting regularly with your father about it," Lester said. "I've even preached a couple of times at different churches in the city already."
"What? When did this happen and why didn't I know anything about it?" Sure, she was wrapped up in her own little world most of the time, but surely she would've known about her husband having a desire to preach, let alone actually having preached somewhere.
Lester cast his eyes downward. "You never show an interest in what I'm doing. I didn't want to hear you try to talk me out of it, so I didn't tell you what I was doing."
Rachel shook her head as she continued walking back and forth across the room. She looked at the family photo of her, Lester, Jordan, and Nia. Both of her kids loved Lester to death. For Nia, he was the only father she'd ever known, since her real daddy didn't half fool with her. Jordan's father, Bobby, was in his life, but the nine-year-old still loved him some Daddy Lester. Rachel couldn't believe she was about to lose the happy home she'd worked so hard to build. But that was what was about to happen because there was no way on earth she would ever be a preacher's wife. She wasn't as buck wild as she used to be, but she definitely wasn't first lady material and didn't care to be first lady material. "This is too much," she said. "This is just coming out of the blue. Are you sucking up to my father, trying to be like the great Simon Jackson?"
Lester jumped to his feet, his frustrations becoming evident. "It's not like that at all. This is not a decision I've made lightly."
Rachel put a finger in the air and began wiggling her neck. She had been doing so well in keeping her ghetto ways at bay. But so much for that. "Decision? So you've already decided?"
He lowered his voice, obviously trying to remain rational. "Rachel, please understand..." He reached out to try and take her arm. She snatched it away.
"I'm not understanding anything!" She leaned in and pointed her index finger in his face. "You understand this. I ain't trying to be a preacher's wife. I spent my life as a preacher's daughter. I hated it growing up. The church always coming first in my family. My daddy never being around. Those holier-than-thou people watching my every move and passing judgment on me. It was horrible! But I didn't have any choice then. I have a choice about this!" She was fuming and was not about to back down. She had to let him know she meant business. Lester was a softie when it came to her. Always had been. She had to make him see this idea wasn't remotely feasible.
"What are you saying, Rachel?" Lester looked like he wanted to cry.
"What does it sound like?" Rachel stared defiantly at her husband.
"It sounds like you're giving me an ultimatum: either you or the Lord."
Rachel didn't budge. "You can make it sound as horrible as you want, I'm just telling you, I ain't trying to be a preacher's wife. Let me rephrase that. I'm not gon' be a preacher's wife."
Lester inhaled deeply before speaking. He looked her in the eye. "And I am telling you," he said, his voice taking on a strength she'd never heard, "I give you everything you want and then some. I cater to your every need, your every wish. But this is something I'm not wavering on. This is my calling and if you don't like it, you can leave." With that Lester turned and stomped out of the house.
Rachel was shocked. In their five years of marriage Lester had never so much as raised his voice at her, let alone issued her an ultimatum. But he had to be confused if he thought his little temper tantrum would change her mind. He was just going to have to find another "calling," because there was no way in hell she was going to be a preacher's wife.
Copyright © 2007 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Say Amen, Again includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author ReShonda Tate Billingsley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Rachel Adams is trying to find a way to forgive her husband, Pastor Lester Adams, for having an affair. Her task is made all the more difficult by the reappearance of his former mistress, Mary Richardson, in their family’s church. Now pregnant, Mary claims that Lester is the child’s father and is intent on seducing him away from Rachel. Meanwhile, a tragedy rocks the foundation of the Adams family and everyone involved is confronted with an ultimate decision of forgiveness.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. What does Rachel’s dream in the novel’s opening chapter reveal about her fears? How is she able to overcome these fears by the end of the book?
2. Despite Lester’s continual refusal of her affections, Mary protests that the love she feels for him is real. Do you think this is true?
3. Rachel fears that her anger is interfering with her growth as a Christian. Do you agree with her decision to leave the church until Mary is removed? Likewise, do you think Mary should be removed from the church—or do you agree with Deacon Jacobs’s assessment that “if they kicked one transgressor out, they had to kick them all out” (p. 14)?
4. Mary’s visit from her mother, Margaret, is unwelcome and reinforces why Mary removed Margaret from her life in the first place. How does Mary feel when she sees her mother? How do you think Mary’s relationship with her mother has influenced her as a person?
5. Mary’s dealing ex-boyfriend, Craig, is another unwelcome visitor who brings “nothing but trouble” when he comes around. Is there anything Mary could have done to rid Craig from her life and leave her past behind? Or do you think her past was always destined to follow her?
6. Fed up with Aunt Minnie’s constant judgment of his family, Simon reveals a few of her deepest secrets to prove that she’s not as perfect as she pretends to be. As Simon says, do you think she “had that coming”?
7. Although Bobby never makes an appearance in this novel, Rachel can’t help but think about him from time to time. She wonders if chasing after him in the past influenced Lester’s affair with Mary. Do you feel that Rachel is right to take on part of the blame for Lester’s affair?
8. After Rachel’s interaction with Pastor Terrance Ellis at Lily Grove Church, she felt humiliated for having misunderstood the pastor’s intentions. Did you also think Pastor Ellis was coming on to Rachel? How did you react to her reasoning that having an affair of her own would help her recover from Lester’s affair? Have you ever felt a similar urge to seek some kind of revenge?
9. Did Roderick’s suicide take you by surprise? Teenage bullying due to sexual orientation is a prominent topic in the media today. How does Roderick’s story echo other tragedies you’ve read or heard about?
10. Rachel’s father offers words of advice after Lester is arrested: “Baby girl, God is in the blessing business. He’s not in the punishing business. . . . Just know that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear” (p. 197). Do you agree? Has there ever been a time in your life that you felt you were being tested beyond what you could bear?
11. What did you think of Rachel’s decision to keep Mary’s son, despite him being a constant reminder of Lester’s indiscretion? Would you have made the same decision? Similarly, how would Rachel’s decision have been different if it had turned out that Lester was, in fact, the boy’s father?
12. How did your opinion of Mary change as you read the book? By the end of the novel, did you find yourself sympathizing with her situation? Or did you think she got what she deserved?
13. How does the role of forgiveness impact both the characters and the events in the novel? Is Rachel truly able to forgive Lester for his indiscretion by the end of the book? Do you think Jonathan will ever be able to forgive himself for what happened to Roderick?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Let the Church Say Amen, the first in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s Say Amen series, is currently being produced as a feature film. If you were in charge of casting, who would you cast as Rachel? Lester? Mary?
2. Roderick’s suicide, like many other teenage suicides committed by those who do not feel accepted by their families and/or communities, came as a saddening shock to those who loved him. If you’d like to help troubled teens in your area, consider taking part in one of the following campaigns:
• The It Gets Better Project, a worldwide movement of hope for LGBT youth: www.itgetsbetter.org
• To Write Love on Her Arms, a movement dedicated to helping those who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide: www.twloha.com
• The Trevor Project, a campaign for a future where all youth have the same opportunities, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity: www.thetrevorproject.org
3. Say Amen, Again is the third book in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s series about Rachel and her family. If your book group hasn’t yet read the first two books in the series, consider Let the Church Say Amen or Everybody Say Amen for your next discussion.
4. You can learn more about ReShonda Tate Billingsley and her books on her official website (www.reshondatatebillingsley.com). You can also follow her on Twitter (twitter.com/ReShondaT).
A Conversation with ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Say Amen, Again is the third book in the Say Amen series. Which character do you think has grown the most since Let the Church Say Amen, the first in the series?
It would definitely have to be Rachel. I mean, did you ever imagine the Rachel we first met would be capable of adopting the child of her husband’s mistress?
Do you have any plans to write another book about Rachel and her family? What’s next for the Jacksons and the Adamses?
Rachel is one of those characters that won’t let me tuck her away. I never planned to write the first sequel, and she demanded that her story continue. Next up, she’ll meet up with Jasmine Larson Bush, the main character from author Victoria Christopher Murray’s Jasmine series. The two women are so much alike and so different and they’ll clash as both try to get their husbands elected to a prestigious position in a national organization. That book is called Saints and Sinners and comes out in 2012.
Before you began writing Say Amen, Again, did you know how it would end? Was Rachel always going to accept Mary’s baby into her life?
Oh, I never know how my books are going to end. That’s why it’s so hard for me to write an outline. My characters take over and they tell me the direction in which they want to go. So, I had no idea if the baby was going to even be Lester’s, let alone Rachel’s plan for the child.
Roderick’s suicide is undoubtedly one of the novel’s saddest moments. Why did you feel this was important to include?
I just wanted to show the tragic side of what can happen when our young people feel like they can’t talk to anyone. I don’t even know whether Roderick was gay, but the simple fact that he was conflicted was cause for concern. Yet, for various reasons, he had nowhere to turn.
When it comes to writing, what would you say is your greatest challenge?
Whew, I guess it would be I can’t write fast enough, and I write pretty fast! There are so many unchartered territories I’d like to venture into, but my plate is pretty full. Some people would think that time might be a challenge, but I believe that you find time for your passion and writing is my passion, so time has never been an issue for me.
In its starred review of Let the Church Say Amen, Library Journal raves about your ability to infuse your text with “just the right dose of humor to balance the novel’s serious events.” Do you find it difficult to strike this balance in your writing?
I don’t. At all. People are always telling me how funny I am and I just don’t see it. I guess it’s because I’m not trying to be. It’s just a part of me; so naturally it’s reflected in my writing.
When you write, do you craft your novels with a mostly Christian audience in mind? Or do you aim to reach a wider readership?
Well, I’m a Christian who writes fiction, but that’s about the scope of my target. I mean, of course I want Christians to enjoy my book, but I also want nonbelievers, people of other religions, anyone and everyone to be able to pick up my book and enjoy it. And more than anything, get a message out of the book. In fact, my greatest joy in writing comes from those who found themselves growing closer to God, stronger in their faith, because of something I wrote. But at the end of the day, my message is for the masses. I believe that’s what God has called me to do.
What most inspires you to write?
A pure, simple passion for telling stories.
If one of your readers wanted to write a novel of his or her own, what would be the first piece of advice you would offer?
Don’t just talk about writing, write. And every minute you spend talking about what you don’t have time to do could be spent doing it. So many people don’t get their book finished because they let that get in the way. Something will always get in the way. The road to success is paved with tempting parking spaces. Don’t take a detour in trying to reach your dream. And finally, set small, attainable goals. I started with three pages a day, five days a week. No matter what, I committed to that. Well, before I knew it, three turned to thirty and I was able to finish my book.
What would you say is the most important thing for your readers to take away from Say Amen, Again?
The power of forgiveness and moving past your anger. I also hope that the book helps people reflect on how judging someone is something that should be left up to God.