/ˈsərfis/ adj.
1. Of, relating to, or occurring on the upper or outer part of something.
syn: superficial, external, exterior, outward, ostensible, apparent, cosmetic, skin deep.

When we can no longer breathe, we will rise to the surface.

1 | LIAM

If anyone could move from leading praise and worship to delivering a sermon in front of two hundred plus people sitting below on blue upholstered wooden pews without a hitch, it was Liam Steele. Resembling the spitting image of his father at seventeen he strummed the acoustic guitar and powerfully sang the closing lyrics to Starfield’s “The Kingdom” with the entirety of the congregation singing along, the movement of his arms careful not to wrinkle his denim shirt or play a wrong note. He held the guitar close as he leaned into the standing microphone smiling slightly at the satisfaction of seeing the church enjoy the song he chose and raise their hands at his voice. In the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of his father, Pastor Luke, to the right of him doing the same.

Rather perfectly, he hummed the melody while the rest of the praise team sustained the rhythm, handclaps, and stomps. He stepped up on the blue-carpeted elevated platform, past the hanging projection of the lyrics, where his father stood in front of long black and white cushioned pew with his hands clasped in prayer form. Once the music stopped, his father took a moment to pull him into a hug, almost covering him with the navy blazer he wore, and pat him on the back.

“Good job, son,” he whispered as he pushed Liam forward toward the oak pulpit at the edge of the platform. “Make me proud.”

Of course he would make his father proud. He had been taught by the best. Liam had come from a long line of pastors, missionaries, seminary professors, and Jewish and Early Christian historians. He could quote the most obscure of scriptures, things people once heard a long time ago in their childhoods but could never find without being told exactly where it was. He knew more about ancient Israel than he knew about early United States history. Public speaking was in his nature; it was like his father and grandfather trained him for opportunities like this.

And he had rehearsed this sermon at least twenty times in the past week, performing for his mother and baby sister for feedback and criticism, preparing himself to deliver his sermon directly to his peers. 1 Timothy 4:12 was something they all knew and heard and Liam was going to tell the leaders who were youth in the church the proper conduct.

Liam did this every fourth Sunday of the month; it was Youth Sunday. Though there were plenty of volunteers for ushers, greeters, and servers for the community lunch after service every time this Sunday rolled around in the month, no one ever stepped up for the sermon.

His sermon was actually supposed to be sermonettes – five exactly. Five different kids from LYL C (Live Your Life for Christ, the elementary and junior high kids) and HGA (His Glory Alone, the high schoolers and young adults) were supposed to give five-to-ten minute sermonettes. But every fourth Sunday, it was always Liam giving a full on forty-five minute sermon, like his father.

Now he really didn’t mind speaking in front of the sitting audience, watching the pens and Bible pages move frequently and hearing them give occasional “Amens.” It was the fact that he was always the one to speak. Wasn’t there at least one other person capable of giving a sermon? Were his peers so stupid that they didn’t see that the more who sign up, the less time they have to speak? Why didn’t his father just step in and choose someone? Or better yet, ask his mother, who was also an ordained pastor, to give a special sermon?

“And that’s why Paul tells Timothy to act in this way,” Liam said as he came to his conclusion, “As Timothy was like us, someone aged in the middle, we are to be examples not only for the little ones who look up to us but if we act according to God’s word, the older – excuse me, more seasoned – people would see what’s good to do also. Then the more seasoned people would not only forget about how old we are but also respect us as leaders. And as a leader, we definitely need respect. Follow God, you gain respect.”

Liam gently slapped the outside of the pulpit and ended to the applause and standing ovation of the entire congregation. His mother, in the handmade summer dress gifted to her by their sponsored Ugandan family, waved a colorful arm to him and gave him the thumbs up from the front row. For the umpteenth time, he would be the conversation starter over dinner tonight. He hoped his parents would focus more on Hannah’s first day of Kindergarten. Her first day of real school should be a lot more important than another rehearsed sermon given on another Sunday. There was nothing new about it.

Since he gave the sermon, he took his place beside his father at the open French double doors of the lobby, shaking hands and making small talk with the congregation. He never understood how his father could be so dedicated to this aspect of being a pastor; even if he didn’t preach or was terribly tired, his father still took the time to talk to each and every person who passed by.

“How are you doing, Sister Denise?” his father smiled, shaking both Sister Denise and her daughter’s, Kaiya’s, hands.

“Very good, actually. I got the design contract in Japan. So I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks,” she said and pushed Kaiya forward, “And I’ll be entrusting my honor student here with the house.”

“Congratulations to the both of you. I’m glad you two are doing well. And I can’t wait to hear what you have planned for HGA this week,” said Pastor Luke.

Kaiya giggled. “It’s going to be fun. Jeremiah’s the DJ and it’s going to be like a huge tutoring or study party. Like come and get tutored or take a short break.” She batted her eyelashes at Liam then looked away. “Maybe Liam can join us? I know all of HGA would want you to be there. And that was a really great sermon.”

Liam gave her a smirk back and fixed the collar on his shirt. Kaiya was kinda cute, especially when she smiled, her high cheekbones pushing the outer corners of her shimmer gold lined eyes higher up. “You know I’ll be there, if my dad says it’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay. What kind of father would I be if I didn’t allow you out of the house with friends I know and people I trust,” Pastor Luke said as he slapped his hand on Liam’s back.

“And of course with the college HGAs and Deacons Allen and Mark, they should be well supervised,” Sister Denise said with a side eye to both her daughter and Liam.

Liam filled his cheeks with air and deflated them fast. Kaiya nodded her head, awkwardly smoothing down her black lace dress.

“That’s the plan.”

Pastor Luke’s laugh cleared the air. “Well our kids are good kids and I’m sure everything is going to run smoothly. Thanks for all of your hard work, Kaiya.”

With a grin, Kaiya ran her hand down Liam’s forearm as if she missed his handshake and said, “See you at school tomorrow.”

As she walked away with her mother, he kept watch on the movement of her hips. He could only guess that she was going extra hard on the slow walk down the concrete pathway to the parking lot in a pair of heels that made her only a few inches shorter than he. She may not have been the thinnest girl, but she knew how to dress herself to enhance the curves she had and the chubbiness she had gotten rid of last year.

She liked him.

At least two large groups of members crossed in front of him before snapped his fingers. “Liam? You okay, son?”

“Yeah,” he nodded while shaking Sister Lillian’s hand and playing with her toddler son. “Just a little hungry, I guess.”

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