Lily (Part twenty-eight)

Michael’s questions spurred Lily. Why? Always the question. Lily remembered stepping from her car onto Beulah’s blacktop parking lot for the first time. Weeks ago now when she met Donald, Fred Aims, Tim the Sunday school teacher, and Beth. Even with Beth, Beulah called to her. Tim taught Scripture the way she taught literature: read the text, explain the context out of which it was created, and then probe the situations and characters based upon the type of literature it is. Only by doing at least these things could one rightly interpret literature. Tim asked thoughtful questions, too, a hallmark of powerful teaching. Donald was there. And Mrs. Ellen Aims. And the pastor seemed humble and wise. Yes, she thought, she appreciated Beulah and her people.

And at Covenant, she believed she had a friend in Thomas McDavid. He encouraged her delicate disposition each time they were together. He was too old to view her sexually, so she felt safe with him. Moreover, he appeared to have read everything. He feigned not knowing which characters did what in Shakespeare’s plays or in the great novels, but Lily knew that he knew them all.

But what about Covenant’s leadership? What would happen to Beth, or between her, Sarah, and Ruth? And there was Nathanael.

“Miss Rood, did you hear me?” Michael asked.

“I’m sorry, but what did you say?” Lily said.

“I asked you whether you think Shakespeare expected us as readers of Hamlet to believe in the reality of ghosts. After all, King Hamlet appears as a motivating force for many, if not all, of Prince Hamlet’s actions,” Michael said.

“Excellent, Michael. What do you all think about the question Michael has raised, class?” Lily asked.

As hands went up to respond, Nathanael knocked upon Lily’s classroom door.

“I’m sorry, class. Give me just a minute, okay?” she said, and walked from the front of her classroom to the door. Heads swiveled in unison following Lily to her door.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood. I’m sorry to interrupt your class,” Nathanael said.

“It’s okay, but is everything alright?” Lily asked.

“Actually, I came to ask you a few things,” Nathanael said.

“Really?” The question hovered in the hallway air between them.

“Perhaps I should say that I feel like you are owed some explanation of what has occurred at Covenant, and a bit of background on my mother, her sisters, especially Beth, and how I came to be here,” Nathanael said.

“I would welcome all of that,” Lily said.

“Do you know where the Cup-n-Saucer is?” Nathanael asked.

“I do.”

“How about there about 6:45 tomorrow morning?”

“Sure,” Lily said. “I’ll be there.”

“Very well, then,” Nathanael said.

“Sorry again about interrupting class. Literature was my favorite subject in high school, and I’ve taken you away from your class for too long,” Nathanael said.

“Well, you’re the headmaster, right? I suppose they may excuse my brief absence from discussing Hamlet,” Lily said.

“Oh, do we not teach Dickens’ Great Expectations to seniors nowadays?”

“We do, for sure. But we are discussing drama this morning, especially how our past… you remember King Hamlet, right? Anyway, his ghost, or Hamlet’s mind, or whatever…well, the past played a crucial role in his future,” Lily said.

“As it did for Pip in Great Expectations, if I recall correctly,” Nathanael said. “Funny,” Nathanael continued. “The past is really what I wanted to discuss with you tomorrow morning.”

“I will see you at 6:45, then,” Lily said, and returned to her class.

(To be continued)

 

Lily (Part twenty)

Tim turned and walked towards his chair and addressed the class.

“It is difficult to put a happy face on the events of the last week. But we rejoice in the arrival of the eldest Aims daughter Sarah, and of course, Aaron, and Nathanael,” Tim said.

Tim looked at Sarah and her family as he spoke. “You know we loved your father, just as we love you all, and we are here with you as you grieve your father’s death. But we celebrate your father’s life, too, his legacy he left through you, through his ministries at Beulah, and especially through Covenant.”

Sarah, Aaron, and Nathan nodded in appreciation, and remained quiet.

“Thank you so much for that, Tim,” Beth said. “Dad would not want us all to grieve his loss but to get back to the business at hand. But thank you all so much for your support. It is truly felt.”

Lily raised her eyes from looking at and listening to Tim, and glanced at Sarah to see what her face registered. Sarah, Aaron, and Nathanael sat in equipoise, listening. Tim nodded in Beth’s direction but did not speak to her comment.

“With that said, let’s turn our attention to the Scriptures again. Last week, we explored the passage from Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God. I asked you to think about what God revealed about himself, what God taught Jacob about Jacob’s own nature, and what lessons we are to draw from that historical account,” Tim said.

“As I said last week, Tim, Jacob was blessed by God to do great things. The angel of the Lord was there as confirmation of God’s being with Jacob,” Beth said.

Lily did not look at Beth, but could still hear Beth’s bracelets slide up and down her forearms while she spoke.

“Does anyone else have other thoughts on Genesis 32, perhaps about God’s nature, or about what Jacob should have been learning?” Tim asked.

Lily did not say anything but felt her pulse increase as Beth sat satisfied in her metal folding chair. Lily glanced again towards Sarah and family, as they sat politely, seemingly untouched by Beth, and listened thoughtfully to Tim as he continued.

“Normally I would not do this but I want us to leave Genesis 32 without finishing the whole story, and turn to a New Covenant passage: Acts 1,” Tim said.

“As always with Scripture, context is key. When the passage under consideration opens, Luke recounts how Jesus was with his apostles—bodily–post-resurrection. And Jesus is promising them that the Father will send the Holy Spirit. Follow me in the text:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

“Just like last week, ask yourself what Jesus is teaching his people about himself, about themselves, and how this applies to our lives.

“Let’s be specific. How did the apostles feel in this passage as Jesus was speaking with them?” Tim asked.

“They were looking to him as their leader to restore order to Israel,” Nathanael said. “But they still did not understand God’s plans were not yet their plans. They felt nervous or anxious, we might say.”

“That’s right, Nathan. Excellent. What makes you say that?” Tim asked.

“Tim, I think the focus was on how God would entrust them to lead,” Beth interjected.

“That’s interesting,” Tim said. “And was the Lord teaching them about who their leader was to be?”

“They were looking for earthly power, still,” said Sarah. “They did not understand the New Covenant yet. They were looking to bolster political might, to capture the culture with godly talk but without God’s means.”

“I think you’re on to something, Sarah,” said Tim. “They called Jesus ‘Lord’, so it sounded good, if you will. But in verse seven, Jesus rebukes them: ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority’.

“Might humility be called for?” Tim asked.

“I think that God was simply telling them that they were going to be used mightily to change their culture. They were going to have God’s blessing and power,” Beth said.

Tim did not say anything. He surveyed the expressions of the class. Lily felt her right foot tapping up and down on the blue carpet. Sarah and Aaron sat like jurors, calm and smiling. When Lily looked at Nathanael, she was pleased to see him looking back at her, smiling.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part eighteen)

Lily planted her left foot on the blacktop of Beulah’s parking lot Sunday morning at 8:35 a.m. Sunday school classes began at 9:00. Vehicles peppered the parking lot, vehicles of the church’s staff and other members who volunteered to serve as teachers, musicians, and nursery workers. Lily liked being early because it fostered time to reflect upon what might unfold.

Her drive to Rook Friday night confirmed that she belonged here now, at Covenant to teach and find her place, and perhaps even at Beulah. She believed God would establish her with friends, like she was discovering in Mr. McDavid at Covenant and Donald here at Beulah.

She anticipated seeing Donald and shaking his Jergen-scented farmer hands in a few minutes. And she took comfort in the wisdom Fred Aims exercised in planning Covenant, the school’s board, and men and women of character with whom Fred surrounded himself. Moreover, Mr. McDavid and Donald promised the other Aims daughters would be at the upcoming board meeting. Yes, I belong here, Lily said to herself.

Walking towards the front door, she looked up to see Donald smiling. “Good morning, Ms. Lily. I’m glad to see you found us again.”

“Good morning, Mr. Donald. It’s good to be back. I even think I know my way to Sunday school. Forgive me if I’m too early.”

“I’m glad you’re early,” said Donald. “I have a few things I’d like to speak with you about, things Covenant related.”

“Yes, of course,” Lily said. “Has something else happened?”

“No, it’s not that. It’s more background information that might help you to navigate, as you say,” said Donald.

“I appreciate that–truly,” said Lily.

“You see, Ms. Lily. Beth is Fred’s baby daughter. The two older sisters moved off in large measure due to the way Fred and Ellen raised their girls.”

“Differently, is that what you’re driving at?” asked Lily.

“You see, Fred and Ellen would both admit today, after all the fallout, that they were very strict with the first two girls,” Donald said.

“But not with Beth?” Lily asked.

“Right,” Donald said. “You see, Sarah was the oldest. She was very bright, even as a young girl, but she moved off as soon as graduating high school. She moved to the city, went to college and law school, and now is married with her own career. Her husband Aaron is a lawyer in the city, with a career as successful as Sarah’s. They have one son named Nathanael, who’s as bright as they are, but whose heart is education.”

“I see,” said Lily. “So there were problems that led to Sarah moving off after high school?”

“Fred was very strict with Sarah when she was young. He drove her hard in her studies and at home on the farm. Fred was still farming during those years. Farming tends to bring some families together. But it also tends to break some families up, you see. Sarah was one more cut out for life in the city and one where she could stretch herself. And her dad and mom resented that, at least when Sarah was young,” Donald said.

“But did they mend the hurt feelings?” Lily asked.

“Oh yes, Ms. Lily, they did,” Donald said. “In fact, Sarah and Aaron are here today, along with Nathanael. You’ll meet them.”

“And they’ll all be at the board meeting tomorrow at Covenant, too,” Donald said. “Sarah and Aaron are on the board.”

“On Covenant’s board?” Lily asked.

“Yes. Very much so,” said Donald.

“And what about the other sister, the middle one?” Lily asked. “She moved off, too? And will she be here today, as well?”

“Yes, she’s here, too, Ms. Lily. She, too, had issues early on with Fred and Ellen. But like Sarah, she has blossomed over the years. Fred, though not with us, and Ellen would both tell you how proud they are of their older two daughters. And yes, you’ll meet her at tomorrow’s board meeting.”

“What’s her name, the middle one?” Lily asked.

“Ruth,” Donald said.

“And how are relationships with the three sisters,” Lily asked.

“Well, you’ll get a glimpse of that at the board meeting, Ms. Lily. You should be able to make up your own mind,” said Donald.

(To be continued)

 

 

Lily (Part seventeen)

After teaching her last block of English literature to seniors Friday afternoon, Lily thought of Sunday and Beulah. Will it have changed, she wondered. Covenant’s headmaster, Fred Aims, has died. Not only did he comfort me at Beulah but he would have been my headmaster here at Covenant.

Lily had believed in Fred. As things now stood, however, Lily had only Mr. McDavid at Covenant as confidant. Lily believed Mr. McDavid saw Beth for what she was. And there was Jergen-scented Donald, another Covenant board member, and deacon at Beulah. These two men, Lily admitted, do bring me comfort. And she liked Tim, too, the Sunday school teacher, but she had been so distracted by Beth in class last Sunday morning that she couldn’t say for sure what a fuller assessment of Tim might bring.

What would Tim’s class be like this coming Sunday? Would Beth continue to prattle? Would Tim allow her to direct others’ attention to her instead of to Scripture? Would Beth prostitute her father’s death for the maudlin? Lily knew how some women used life’s tragedies for their own agendas. Some women’s tears were liquid traps shed to devour the vulnerable. Lily had learned to detect narcissists by watching her mother.

Lily’s body betrayed her anxiety. Her hip and lower back ached, as if pressed by overwhelming force. Has it all been misguided, this coming to Covenant? Loneliness hung its dark cape on her as she drove from Covenant’s campus Friday, and she knew she had to act.

She waited until Friday’s February sun sank and darkness fell. She got into her car and drove back to Rook. For what? To quit Covenant? No. No, she said to herself aloud in her car, not to quit. Just to relearn what I know.

(To be continued)

“Lily” (Part eight)

“I just hated to see you sit by yourself at our church,” Beth whispered to Lily. Lily feinted a smile in Beth’s direction. Lily never wanted to disturb worship.imgres

The pastor wrapped his hands over the lip of the chancel. “Solomon,” he said, “presents the gospel in the Old Testament. Listen to the familiar proverb again, and read it not only in its original setting but also in light of the story of Scripture, the Bible as a whole.

“‘Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find.’ Does that not have the ring of familiarity?

Do we not all know people—political leaders, actors, singers, icons, people in our own families, but mostly ourselves who have done this?

“Many of us have proclaimed our dependability, our trueness, our constancy, right? But when we examine our realities in light of holy God, how do we fare?”

Lily felt perspiration build under her right armpit. She again knew why she’d come to Beulah. She needed this truth—that she was the guilty one. But she also needed the truth that God came for the repentant guilty. Lily saw herself as a Jacob—a deceiver redeemed, but with a spiritual limp. She knew she judged others more harshly than she ought. She knew she did not deserve mercy. She knew God would be just to damn her. She knew that she didn’t love God as she ought, and that she would answer for her sins. But Christ.

Suddenly the pastor looked up from his notes and out at the congregation. “But when we examine ourselves in light of holy God, church, how do we fare? Do we not feel like Isaiah—sinners with unclean lips, undone, lost?

“And we are. But that is not where God left sinners who repent. He did not say, ‘If you clean up your act, I will then accept you.’ No, he said, ‘but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ He says we’re to believe upon Christ.”

Lily had heard the gospel message for most of her life in Rook. She discipled teenage girls at the school she left in Rook before accepting this new offer to teach at Covenant. She knew the gospel. She knew the passages of Scripture most pastors used to illustrate man’s nature and his only hope of rescue through Christ. Yet this truth amazed.

Movement on Lily’s right side caught her eye. She saw Beth again spinning the golden rings on her ugly fingers. And her fake black nails arced like ravens’ claws. Beth’s rust-colored head leaned forward, as if in prayer. Lily felt guilty for her visceral reactions to Beth. Lily almost whispered to Beth. An apology? How does one apologize to another for one’s own thought life, Lily thought.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

“Lily” (Part seven)

As she sanimgresg, Lily concentrated upon the words. She had taught English for years. Crafting words well, she believed, honored God. Because God revealed himself through words, language was crucial. It seemed obvious, to Lily at least, that God’s covenant people should be word-rooted people. Words to songs mattered:

 So, remember your people

Remember your children,

Remember your promise, oh God

 As the song ended, Lily’s frustration with Beth had subsided.

The pastor had a winsome demeanor, and the music had refocused Lily upon why she was visiting Beulah. What’s more, she had enjoyed what Tim had tried to encourage the class to think about. Here I am alone, Lily thought, in a sanctuary, a female Jacob, wrestling with you, Lord, in order for you to touch me. Remember me, oh God.

 “Please be seated,” said the minister of music after the congregation sang. As she sat, Lily noticed a trifold bulletin in the pew in front of her. She opened it and followed along with the minister of music as he called the congregation’s attention to some of the church’s announcements: outreach ministries, charitable giving, discipleship classes.

Beulah’s bulletin included the contact information for the church staff, announcements, a historic confession of the faith, the hymns and choruses to be sung during corporate worship, and the text of Scripture from which the pastor would teach: “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find” (Proverbs 20: 6, ESV).

Lily opened her Bible app on her iPhone and turned to the passage. The pastor approached the chancel. As Lily focused upon the text the pastor was about to read, a shadow came over Lily’s iPhone. Looking up, Lily saw Beth, standing over her. “Hey, Lily,” the tower whispered. “Sorry I’m late. Can I sit with you?”

“Um, yes. I mean, sure.” Lily gathered her skirt beneath her knees and turned to the left to allow Beth onto the pew. Beth’s shadow moved across Lily’s iPhone and in front of her downcast eyes, then fell to the right. As Beth landed on the pew, Lily could feel the weight of impact in her hips.

(To be continued)