Lily (Part forty-seven)

Nathanael’s composure never left him. Self-possessed, he remained near the wall where he could see down the main corridors of the church and into the narthex. Only weeks earlier Lily had entered this same way and seen Fred Aims, Donald, and attended Tim’s class for the first time.

Lily surveyed the parishioners as before. She found a seat three rows behind Donald and his wife. She pulled her iPhone from her purse, verified it was still on silent, and opened the Bible app. It was still in Ruth. Momentarily Lily’s thoughts turned again to Tim and his class. Naomi’s bitterness in the early parts of Ruth reminded her of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Miss Havisham eventually sought forgiveness for her treatment of Pip. And Naomi’s story ends with her being blessed by her peers, bitterness replaced by benediction.

“Ms. Rood, may we join you?” It was Nathanael with his guest. When Lily raised her eyes, she saw Nathanael smiling politely. Jovial Thomas McDavid stood behind him.

“Of course,” Lily said. “O Thomas, hi. I had no idea Nathanael was waiting for you.”

“I hope I didn’t keep Nathan from you long,” Mr. McDavid said. Looking at Lily, Thomas said, “He has been asking me to come to Beulah nonstop since he assumed his new role.”

Lily watched Nathanael for a response but his equanimity remained fixed. He only smiled and took his seat beside Lily and Thomas McDavid.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-five)

“Lily, I’m glad you returned to Beulah today and to our class,” Tim said.

“I enjoy your teaching very much.”

“It was awkward for you this morning, I take it?”

“I’m not from here,” Lily said. She felt embarrassed to state the obvious. “And that is creating some challenges.”

“A Naomi in Moab?”

“There was no famine in the land for me in Rook,” Lily said. “But like Naomi, I did leave for what I hoped would be a better life.”

“How have you found things since coming here,” Tim asked.

“I am enjoying teaching. I have some bright and thoughtful students at Covenant. Plus I have met some interesting peers.” Lily was thinking of her friend Thomas McDavid.

“But I have not been welcomed by all people there—or here. And I appreciate Beulah. Mr. Donald has welcomed me and become a friend. I don’t know his wife well yet but I hope to. Mr. Fred Aims would have become a friend, too, I believe, until…”

“Fred Aims was a precious man. His wife Ellen is just as precious. And Donald and his wife are cut from the same cloth as the Aims parents,” Tim said.

“Do you think it is perhaps impossible to be liked by all people we know, however, Lily?”

“More each day,” Lily said. “I do not like confrontation but I have found enemies since relocating here.”

“It seems you are respected at least by the new headmaster at Covenant,” Tim said questioningly.

“I only met Nathanael and his parents since the turnover drama surrounding Mr. Aims’ replacement. Nathanael has been very kind to me, yes. I cannot say the same for one of his aunts, however.”

“Ms. Lily, we are a small town here. Sometimes people’s thinking can be similarly myopic. Do we understand one another?”

“I think so. I did not seek enemies when moving here to teach. I came in hope of making some new friends, of finding a church where I belonged…”

“And you are making those friends. I hope you remain at Beulah, as you have a foothold already. Our enemies, Lily, come somewhat like our friends–unplanned by us. Friendships are not manufactured; they seem ordained for us—like doors we open already prepared for us. Our enemies are likewise unplanned by us, but there.”

“I see why you teach,” Lily said.

“Ha! Thank you. I have enemies too, to be sure. But I think I have some friends as well,” Tim said.

Lily felt someone looking at her. Down the corridor Nathanael stood against the wall watching her. He appeared to be waiting for someone.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty)

For Lily, several days bled into lonely evenings. Dusk invariably found her heart heavy. Each passing February day’s light faded but her sorrows increased in counterpoint. Her thoughts turned upon her as opponents. She wrestled invisible foes during her dreams while she fought to rest. Beth’s visage plagued her mind–the fake black fingernails, the masculine hands, the ruined hair. Lily suffered when alone. When not teaching, she sought comfort in reading and at Beulah on weekends. She longed for Thomas McDavid to attend Beulah, but it did not appear he was active at Beulah or otherwise in a local church body.

When Sunday arrived, Lily rose as if she had slept upon stones rather than a bed. She ached in her hip and lower back. The gray in her hair, she believed, betrayed her melancholy. But Beulah promised Tim’s teaching Sunday school, seeing Donald, and perhaps Nathanael. She washed, dressed, and drove towards Beulah.

As she pulled into Beulah’s parking lot and exited her car, sunlight shone above and around Beulah’s steeple. She stepped from her car. “Christ,” she said.

“What’s that?” an elderly woman asked. It was Mrs. Ellen Aims.

“I’m sorry, what?” Lily asked.

“You said ‘Christ’ as you got out of your car. I’m sorry, but I saw you pull in and I was watching you. You remember me, right?”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry,” Lily said, “but I did not realize I had said anything. How are you, Mrs. Aims?”

“It’s alright, dear. I talk to myself, too,” Mrs. Aims said.

“I was just thinking as I pulled in, and I saw the sun and steeple… I’m rambling. Sometimes I just see things, you know?”

“It’s really alright, dear. If you cannot say ‘Christ’ here, when can you?” Mrs. Aims said. “Would you care to walk in together?”

“I would love that. Thank you,” Lily said.

Ahead Lily could see Donald at the front door of the church, smiling at her and Mrs. Ellen Aims. Lily grinned to herself, thinking of the Jergens scent she’d soon inhale. She walked beside Mrs. Aims, looking towards Donald, as the sun fell upon them like a benediction.

(To be continued)

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)