Lily (Part forty-three)

“I’m fine,” Lily whispered to Nathanael. Tim’s ways of letting Scripture explain itself captivated Lily. Tim asked questions of his Sunday school class and listened to the class’s responses but he invariably returned to the storyline of Scripture itself. Lily understood herself to teach literature the same way–read the play, novel, or poem; then ask questions about what was read; then return to the texts themselves as their own interpreters.

Lily knew Ruth’s story in Scripture well but Tim’s teaching drew her in once again to the plot. “Okay then,” Nathanael said. Nathanael sensed Lily’s focus.

“Does anyone think we might learn from Naomi’s questioning God like she did?” Tim asked.

“Tim, I think Naomi was wrong to do that. We should just trust that the Lord won’t put more on us than we can bear,” Beth interjected.

Lily pressed her own fingernails into the fleshy parts of her palms. She grimaced at the bromides that passed for biblical theology. She longed for Tim to rebuke Beth. She sat back in her chair again to keep from speaking and to release tension in her hip and lower back. She sensed Nathanael watching her.

“So Naomi was self-pitying, Beth?” Tim asked. “Is that what we should understand the story to be teaching at this point?”

“Well, I just know that God has put me in some really tough situations, Tim. And rather than giving in, I fought back. And I—well, I overcame. Now I try to impart that wisdom to the students I’ve led and counseled over the years at Covenant. I see it as my mission field,” Beth returned. Lily felt some acid rise in the back of her throat. She felt forming vomit.

Movement in the classroom. Suddenly Aaron, Sarah and Ruth rose from their chairs and walked out. Looking up from his Bible, Tim said, “Aaron, is something the matter?”

“Excuse us please, Tim. It is not you,” Aaron said. The class alternatively stared at Aaron and Tim, grasping for explanations. Lily looked straight at Nathanael, who had not moved.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-two)

As if nothing has occurred, Lily thought. This mocks the very name of Christ. And yet we are allowed by God to sit here and partake of her goodies’?

Lily seethed as the rest of the Sunday school class placed Beth’s ceramic dishes onto trays against the back wall of the room, their outsides clean of crumbs.

“Thank you again, Beth, for feeding the class this morning.”

“You guys are so welcome, Tim. I wanted to do it,” Beth said, smiling.

Lily had neither eaten nor drunk anything since the day before. She sat with her right leg over her left in the folding metal chair, waiting.

“This morning I would like to turn our attention to the story of Ruth in the Old Testament,” Tim said. “As you turn there in your Bibles, would anyone like to share any insights into the history of Ruth or things you would like us to discuss?”

Suddenly the sound of bracelets slipping down forearms onto Beth’s masculine hands preceded the voice Lily dreaded.

“Oh Tim, I just love the story of Ruth. It is about a powerful woman God used to accomplish mighty things,” Beth said. “It has always held a special place for me in my walk with the Lord.”

For a moment, Lily contemplated swallowing her own tongue.

“That’s interesting, Beth,” Tim responded. “Can you elaborate on what you mean?”

“Of course,” Beth said. “I just think that Ruth was so important to God because she didn’t leave when others left. She remained with her family. She did not go off. She stayed and God used her to become an even greater woman.” Beth scoped the classroom as she spoke, in case her sisters were present.

Lily felt perspiration begin to form on her forehead but she did not speak.

“That is an interesting take on Ruth as part of the storyline of Scripture, Beth,” Tim said. “Does anyone else have some things you might share about Ruth—either as a woman, per se, or perhaps as part of what God was doing?”

Suddenly four people appeared at the door.

“I’m sorry we are late, Tim.” It was Aaron and Sarah. Ruth walked in beside her sister, and Nathanael entered last.

“No problem, guys. Welcome. Please grab some goodies your sister-in-law brought, and join us. We’re discussing the baker’s namesake,” Tim said.

Lily straightened up in her chair, and patted her forehead to check for perspiration. Nathanael sat next to her. Aaron, Sarah, and Ruth sat adjacent to Nathanael.

“Well, I don’t think Beth is a book of the Bible,” Aaron said, “so I guess that means you’re in Ruth today?”

“All that law school paid off, Aaron,” Tim said, smiling. “I was asking the class what insights about Ruth as a person, or as a woman, per se, or as a character in Scripture, they might have.”

No one spoke for a moment, until finally Tim continued.

“Well, Beth mentioned that Ruth was a powerful woman used mightily by God.”

Nathanael turned his eyes towards Lily without turning his head. Lily cleared her throat and adjusted into a more comfortable position in her chair.

“What actually was the setting of Ruth?” Tim asked.

“Wasn’t it during the time of the judges?” Nathanael asked.

“It was, Nathan. Exactly. So that was the 900s B.C.,” Tim said. “And what was the time period like for the people in the story? Was the nation experiencing a time of blessing by the Lord? Was the nation politically and nationally stable?”

Nathanael and Lily both smiled sadly, and shook their heads, as did several others in class.

“It was not,” Tim said. “As Nathan said, this was the time of the judges. When the story of Ruth opens, we are told right away that there was a famine in the land. And so a man, Elimelech, and his wife, Naomi, and their two sons go in search of better fortune in Moab. Once in Moab, however, Elimelech died. And Naomi is now widowed, with two sons, in a land not her own.

“And then more bad news strikes. Naomi’s sons married Moabite women, but after a while, her two sons die, too. Now Naomi has two daughters-in-law, and she’s still away from her home back in Bethlehem.”

Beth made some motions in her chair when Tim said ‘away from her home’, and adjusted some rings on her hands.

Lily could hear the metallic clink of Beth’s bracelets carried on the air. No one else in the room seemed to stir.

“Tim, this is the part I just love,” Beth interjected. “You see a woman who does not leave her family when times are tough.”

“Ah, you mean Ruth, of course, Beth,” Tim said. “Yes of course, but we are not there yet in the story. At this point, we are still reading of Naomi, of how she felt God was against her, how she felt bitter, et cetera. Is everyone with me?”

Except for Beth, the class nodded in agreement. “At issue here, it seems to me,” Tim said, “is this woman, Naomi, who had gone with her husband and sons to a territory not their own. And yet tragedy had set in—in several ways. For her, she lost her husband, her sons, there’s famine still back in Bethlehem, and now she has a complicated life as a woman in the ancient Near East with two daughters-in-law, and she questions God. Does anyone else in here think that we might do the same thing if God allowed those circumstances in our lives?”

Lily was unaware that she had begun leaning forward in her seat. Gently, Nathanael leaned into Lily’s left shoulder. “You okay?” he whispered.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part twenty-three)

After Mr. McDavid opened the metal library door, Lily stepped through and fixed her eyes upon the settee near Dickens’ works where she and Thomas McDavid sat before. But the seat was not empty. Nathanael Aims, Sarah and Aaron’s son, sat on one side. Lily swallowed, uncertain what to do.

Nathanael wore cream-colored slacks, a blue Oxford shirt, and handsome brown blazer. His face was unshaven since church yesterday, casting him with a seriousness Lily and others sensed. For a moment, Lily forgot Mr. McDavid was with her. She tried to appear composed as she walked towards Nathanael. As she approached the settee, Nathanael stood, smiled, and spoke first.

“Good morning, Lily. Nice seeing you again, even if it’s seven o’clock in the morning,” Nathanael said.

“Good morning, Nathan, I mean Nathanael. It is nice to see you, too,” Lily said. “You know Mr. McDavid, I think?”

“Hello, Nathan. Great to see you again, my young friend, even under such circumstances,” Mr. McDavid said, and hugged Nathanael as if he were a nephew.

“Great to see you again, too, Thomas,” Nathanael said. “I wish we came back more often, but Mom and Dad have their own careers, and schedules fill up. But perhaps that will change now.”

Mr. McDavid winked at Nathan and said, “Why don’t you two sit here, and I’ll go see if your parents and your mom’s sisters are here yet?”

Lily stifled a smile and looked at Nathanael. They sat down together on the settee.

“Everyone! Everyone!” rang Beth’s voice from the other end of the library. “We will get started momentarily.”

Lily scanned the library for faces. She saw Donald and Mr. McDavid talking over by a copier, drinking coffee and laughing. Sarah and Aaron Aims were seated a couple of tables over from where Beth stood behind a rolling lectern. Three men Lily didn’t know, about Fred Aims’ age, sat beside a quiet woman close to Sarah’s age. Lily thought the woman had to be Ruth Aims.

“Covenant, good morning,” Beth resumed. “Thank you all for coming in early this morning. I’d like to start off by saying ‘Welcome!’ to my sisters, brother-in-law and nephew, as well as to all of Covenant’s board members. I didn’t know until quite recently that my family members were even coming into town.”

Lily looked at each member of the family, and even glanced at Nathanael to her right on the settee. None of the Aims family spoke except Beth. They only smiled kindly, nodding their heads towards Covenant’s faculty.

“I wanted to ask if we could all get started. As headmistress, there’s much responsibility. It takes a lot of leadership to continue steering Covenant’s faculty and students in the way the Lord would have them go. But we all feel that we are heading the right direction, even after Dad’s passing. Mom says to tell you all ‘Thank you’ for your acts of kindness over these recent days,” Beth continued.

As Beth drew in a breath to continue speaking, Donald approached the lectern from where he and Thomas McDavid had been standing by the copier.

“Beth,” said Donald, “Excuse me. Everyone, you know Fred Aims was a unique man, a gifted man. His love for Covenant, its faculty and students, and for its witness, was known to almost all of us. And Fred was one of my closest friends since we both farmed decades ago.”

Lily’s eyes were fixed on Thomas McDavid, who stood smiling by the copier, his coffee-stained cup in his right hand.

Beth stood awkwardly to Donald’s left, uncertain whether she should stand at all. None of the Aims daughters said anything. They, along with Aaron and Nathanael, sat listening for Donald to continue.

“Like Fred’s initial calling to establish Covenant, he was likewise thorough in how it was to be led,” Donald said.

Suddenly Beth appeared encouraged. She straightened her red blouse, as if buoyed by praise.

“And the board has called this meeting today to do three things,” Donald said.

Lily thought she heard Beth’s bracelets shaking. Beth took a step farther away from Donald and began twisting the rings on her fingers, as if they were going to slip off. She appeared excited.

“First,” Donald said, “the board, we gathered here in front of you, want to apologize for what has happened. Beth did not receive the unanimous votes required to be Covenant’s next headmistress. She may be able to remain in her former role here, but that, too, is being evaluated by the board.

“Second, the board has now had the required time to meet and follow the procedure that Fred Aims and others inaugurated.

“And third,” Donald concluded, “the board has voted on the new leader for Covenant. And he’s sitting over by our English teacher, Miss Rood. Nathanael Aims, would you please come forward?”

Except for Beth, the library erupted in applause. Nathanael looked over at Lily and smiled innocently. He rose and walked towards the lectern.

Lily sat frozen to the settee, looking back and forth at Nathanael, Donald, and Mr. McDavid. She felt sweat form under her right armpit and her forehead burned.

When she finally thought to look for Beth, she could not find her. Beth had fled the library.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lily (Part twenty-two)

Predawn. Lily’s brown hair lay upon her white pillowcase as if she had slept well. But she had hardly slept at all. The sheets appeared as if they had been assaulted rather than slept upon, twisted like rope. Her hip and lower back attested to her restless hours through the night. She lay upon her back, staring upward when a first ray of dawn entered a bedroom window. She glimpsed dust particles float above her cream-colored sheets in a tiny galaxy of planets, atmospheres, and mystery.

Mrs. Wilkins’ voice echoed in her mind: 7 a.m. Please be on time. At Covenant last week, Mrs. Wilkins had said the board had called the faculty meeting. It was, Lily thought, significant that Covenant’s board had called the meeting. Mr. McDavid and Donald assured her that the other Aims daughter would be in attendance.

She thought of Sarah, Aaron, and Nathanael. They seemed impervious to the trivial, as if they had long distinguished the significant from the banal. She felt drawn to them but was unsure what their roles would be in today’s meeting. And what of Ruth, the middle Aims daughter? She had not met her yet, and she wondered if she would be mannered like Sarah, or more like Beth, or perhaps neither. And what would Ruth’s role be with Covenant’s board, or with her sisters Beth and Sarah?

Lily thought these questions mocked her sleeplessness. But when she entered the school corridor, Thomas McDavid stood smiling at her, his coffee-stained mug in his right hand.

“Mane bonum, Ms. Rood.”

“Good morning to you, too, Mr. McDavid,” Lily said.

“Would you like to walk together to the meeting in a few minutes? I could introduce you to the other Aims daughters who are in town, and Nathan, too,” Mr. McDavid said.

“Actually, I met the eldest, Sarah, and her husband Aaron yesterday at church. I met their son Nathanael, too, but we were unable to talk very much. We were in a Sunday school class together,” Lily said.

“Wonderful,” Mr. McDavid said. “Sarah was a gifted girl.  And she has grown to be just as precocious of a woman. Aaron is a fine man, too, and their son Nathan got the best qualities of his parents.”

Lily found herself smiling at the prospect of seeing them all again, and perhaps speaking more with Nathanael.

“Nathan’s heart is education, too, Ms. Rood, so you will enjoy getting to know him,” Mr. McDavid said.

“I would like that,” Lily said.

“Well, shall we go in?” Mr. McDavid asked, approaching the library.

“’Once more unto the breach’ then?” Lily asked, and Thomas McDavid pulled open the door.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lily (Part nineteen)

Lily anticipated Monday’s board meeting, as Donald looked at her and said, “Well, here’s Tim’s class, Ms. Lily. This is where you were last week, right?”

“Yessir. Thank you,” Lily said.

How will this end? Lily wondered. Does Beth know her sisters are in town? Mrs. Wilkins announced Friday that there was a peremptory faculty meeting at seven Monday morning. But what about between now and then? What happens when I enter Tim’s class?

Lily found herself looking down at her brown boots as she stepped forward on blue carpet and entered Tim’s class.

Tim sat on a silver swivel chair sipping coffee from a white Styrofoam cup, talking to class members.

“Hi Lily. Welcome back,” Tim said, rising from the chair, as Lily entered. “Some of us were just talking about the week we have had.”

“Hi, everyone,” Lily said. “Yes, it’s been rough, to be sure. How are you bearing up?”

“I have known the Aims family for years,” Tim said. “Though I grieve Fred’s death, I don’t grieve as one without hope. To the contrary.”

“I understand,” said Lily. “He was, I have learned, a wise and loved man.”

“Lily,” Tim said, “I would like to introduce you to one of the other Aims daughters, and Aaron, Fred and Ellen’s son-in-law. I think you already know Beth.”

Questions sounded in Lily’s skull about what her eyes would see when she looked up at Sarah, Aaron, and Nathanael. Will Sarah clang with gold bracelets and have fake fingernails? Will she talk endlessly about herself, Lily wondered.

“Ms. Rood. It is very nice to meet you. I’m Sarah and this is my husband Aaron. My father spoke very highly of you and your coming to Covenant.”

“It is nice to meet you, too,” said Lily. “I’m thankful to be at Covenant. But may I ask how you and your family are doing?”

Lily struggled with how to honor Mr. Aims without letting the questions degenerate into sentimentality.

“It’s been only a week, and you and your family have come in from out of town, and must have your sorrow to deal with, and…” Lily said.

“That’s true,” said Sarah, “but my family is with me. Speaking of whom, this is my husband Aaron, and our son Nathanael.”

Lily looked up at two of the handsomest men she’d ever seen. Aaron had on khaki slacks, a black blazer with a blue Oxford shirt underneath. He extended his right hand to Lily.

“As Sarah said, Ms. Rood, it is very nice to meet you. Welcome to Covenant, and we hope, to Beulah, too,” Aaron said.

As she shook his hand, Lily looked at his other hand. He wore only his wedding band. Lily noticed Sarah wore only her wedding ring, too, unlike Beth, who Lily heard approaching.

“Oh Lily, I see you’ve met some more of my family, Sarah and Aaron,” Beth interjected.

“Um yes, I’ve just met Sarah and Aaron. But I’ve not officially met their son yet,” Lily said, looking over at Nathanael where he stood next to Tim, who’d returned to his swivel chair.

“Hello, Ms. Rood. Pleasure,” said Nathanael, walking over. He is more handsome than his father Aaron, Lily thought. How can these people be related to Beth?

Nathanael shook Lily’s hand with the same gentlemanly demeanor as his father had. He smiled at Lily and welcomed her to Covenant, too, as if he knew Lily’s story. Lily liked him and his parents immediately.

“Well,” Beth interrupted, “it looks like we are ready to get started. Right, Tim?” Beth’s voice jangled across the blue carpeted floor and between the sheetrock walls of the classroom like a cymbal.

(To be continued)