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 fifteen)

Silence hung in the library air like humidity after Beth’s announcement. The library quickly emptied of a faculty cloaked with furtive conversations.

“This is not what I anticipated when I came from Rook to teach at Covenant, Mr. McDavid,” Lily said, as they walked out through the library doors.

“Well, Ms. Rood, it was a pleasure meeting you and chatting with you this afternoon. Perhaps you’d like to get that cup of coffee tomorrow morning before school?” Mr. McDavid said. “You know where our Cup-n-Saucer is?”

“Yes. I’d like that,” said Lily. Lily wondered why Mr. McDavid had not responded to her statement, but deflected it to coffee Friday morning.

Later that night Lily wrestled in her bed. Her hip and lower back hurt, long before she rose to dress before dawn. She knew she would resemble old Miss Havisham at work Friday.

When Lily entered the Cup-n-Saucer Friday morning, she saw Mr. McDavid already seated, and he was drinking from the same coffee cup he carried at school, embossed with the Latin scroll. But he was not alone. Donald, the greeter from Beulah, sat beside Mr. McDavid. Donald rose, along with Mr. McDavid, when they saw Lily enter.

“Hello, Miss Lily. Nice to see you again,” said Donald.

As he extended his hand, Lily smiled broadly and took his hand in hers.

“Nice to see you, too, sir. I did not know you’d be here for coffee, but I’m very glad to see you again,” Lily said to Donald.

The Cup-n-Saucer had a dozen square lime-green formica tables with mostly matching chairs. As they sat, Lily looked down at her chair. She saw a tear in the vinyl, just between her legs. The chairs had silver legs that screeched on the tile. They slid their chairs under the table as the waitress approached.

“What’ll you have, hon?”

“Just coffee, please,” said Lily.

“That all? Well, okay. Just know you’re with two of the finest men in our town, so you just listen to them and they’ll take care of you, okay? I’ll be right back with your coffee, miss” the waitress said.

“Okay, yes ma’am. Thank you,” Lily said.

“Miss Lily, Thomas didn’t tell you that I’d be here this morning because we wanted it to be a surprise. But I guess you’ve had a lot of surprises since coming to town,” Donald said.

“Um, yessir, you could say that. First time at Beulah. Then Mr. Aims’ passing. Then changes at Covenant. It’s a lot to take in. I’m grateful to you both, however, for watching over me and trying to help me navigate some,” Lily said.

“Speaking of navigation, Ms. Rood, that’s one of the reasons I asked you to coffee at our interesting faculty meeting yesterday,” said Mr. McDavid. “There are some things that Fred’s daughter is not privy to, things which Donald and I will be addressing.”

“I’m not sure I understand, Mr. McDavid,” said Lily.

“You see, Ms. Rood, Fred Aims did not answer the call to begin Covenant, bring in the faculty that he did, and forget to plan for contingencies,” Mr. McDavid said. “Covenant has a board comprised of people whose ambitions are somewhat less consumed with certain people’s reputations, and instead with excellence for our students.”

“I see,” said Lily. “But what does this have to do with what our new headmistress doesn’t know, or with, I’m ashamed to ask, with me?”

“Let me see if I can help her, Thomas,” said Donald.
“You see, Miss Lily,” said Donald, “Fred Aims had three daughters. Two of them moved off, and Beth is the baby.”

“Yes,” said Lily, “I can see that.”

“But Beth is not as privy, as Thomas said, to how thoroughly her father planned his Covenant,” Donald said. “The other girls moved off for a reason, but they still are their father’s children, and are part of Fred’s vision,” said Donald.

“I know that Beth said that she’s the new headmistress at Covenant now, but Covenant has a board that Fred set up to address many contingencies, including Fred’s departure,” said Thomas McDavid.

“What that means for Covenant, Ms. Rood, and for Beth Aims, and for you and me is that leadership is not settled so quickly as Beth wants,” Mr. McDavid said.

“Oh, I think I understand somewhat now,” Lily said.

“There will be another faculty meeting soon, Ms. Rood,” said Mr. McDavid, “but the next one will be one called by the board. The other Aims daughters will be in attendance.”

(To be continued)

“Lily” (Part ten)

After Beth slid past Lily and walked away with Donald, Lily’s thoughts raced. I’ve never seen aimgres pastor interrupt a sermon like this.

 When Beth exited with Donald, her bracelets jangled together like gaudy cymbals on her wrists. Lily could not wash the picture of Beth’s unseemly hands and black nails from her mind. Lily looked up at the pastor.

“We are departing from our normal order of worship this morning, but just to reward a person whose reputation is truly one of selfless service, one who has for years poured into other people, especially the young,” the pastor said.

Nothing on Lily moved. Except her eyes. She scanned the sanctuary for any appearance of Beth, but did not see her.

The pastor continued. “Beulah,” he said, “please join me in congratulating a man with a servant’s heart, a man who had the vision to plant a school centered on Christ, a man who has sought to inculcate a faculty that manifest the gospel to our community. Fred Aims, please come forward.”

The congregation stood without hesitation and applauded. Lily stood, too, thrilled for her one friend in church. Lily looked over to where Fred and Ellen had been sitting a few rows in front of her, but they were both gone. Lily assumed she had just missed their exit when Beth had come to sit beside her earlier.

The applause continued for a few seconds, but Fred did not appear near the chancel area. Congregants glanced over to where Fred and Ellen usually sat during services. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Aims was there.

“I’m sorry,” the pastor said, “something must’ve happened. Do we have someone checking on Fred?”

Suddenly, the sound of a frantic woman could be heard from behind the raised platform made for the chancel and choir. It was Beth. “Daddy!” she screamed.

Fred Aims lay dead on the hall floor. While walking with his wife to be recognized, he had collapsed. Beth’s frame overshadowed her father. Her rust-colored hair lay upon her father’s neck and upon his plaid shirt; her gold cross earrings lay flat on the breathless chest. Mrs. Aims knelt on the other side of her husband, holding his still warm left hand, weeping in silence.

(To be continued)

 

 

“Lily” (Part six)

“Miss Lily, if you are comfortable with it, my wife and I would love for you to sit with us in the sanctuary. But we understand if you’d like to sit somewhere else, or by yourself, or with someoneimgres from the Sunday school class you just left,” Fred said.

“Thank you, Mr. Fred. It’s okay. I’ll sit by myself. I do look forward to meeting your wife, however,” Lily said.

“Well, she’s a saint–to have put up with me for these many years. She’s the vocal one, the strong one. I prefer to serve in different ways. Guess I fit best behind the scenes, you know?”

“Yessir, I do,” Lily said, grateful that God placed men like Fred in a world of Beths.

“Well, Miss Lily, Ellen and I sit over there,” Fred said, pointing towards the right side of the nave. “Is there anything else I may do for you right now?” he asked.

“No, sir. Not right now. Thank you so much for showing me to a class this morning, and walking me to the sanctuary,” Lily said.

Fred nodded, and then walked towards his wife and their seats.

Lily surveyed the back of women and men’s heads from the rear of the sanctuary, in deciding where to sit. Lily first noticed the women wearing hats. Others made their ways in the nave as if pride was their cosmetic.

Men’s necks and collars told stories, too. Lily saw some men’s necks were lined and leathered from toil in the sun. Some men, Lily thought, were physical laborers. Their hands and neck muscles differed from the retirees who only golfed or fished. Still other men wore suits and gold watches that they displayed more often than they needed to in order to tell time.

Lily was middle-aged, so sitting with the youth group on the left of the nave was out of the question. She was sure she taught many of the youth at Covenant anyway, so she decided upon a pew six rows behind Fred and his wife.

Fred and Ellen were old enough to be Lily’s parents, but she liked them already, even though she was yet to even meet Ellen. They just seemed comfortable with their standing. They dressed humbly and yet, Lily could already tell, they were respected.

There was a young married couple at the other end of the pew Lily decided upon, so she found a seat without much notice.

Music had begun. The sanctuary began filling, and conversations tapered off. “Good morning, Beulah,” said a smiling man who stepped forward in the chancel. Lily assumed he was the pastor.

“We are glad you are here today. If you are a visitor, please take time to complete a visitor’s card this morning, and drop it in the offering plates when they come around in a few minutes. Please know that we are thankful you’ve come this morning to worship with us at Beulah.”

He was about Lily’s age, of medium build, with a two-piece brown suit that could’ve been purchased at the local mall. Lily watched his eyes, to see if he looked into the congregation’s eyes as he spoke. He did.

The pastor continued. “Will you pray with me, please? ‘Our Father, we confess we don’t deserve your grace, but you’ve demonstrated it in the person and work of Christ. And we say, thank you, Lord, today. Will you speak to your people? And may we behold Christ, who is enough. Amen.’”

The words to a worship song appeared on screens above the choir loft. The music and words continued to grow. Soon the gathered congregation sang:

Great is your faithfulness, oh God

You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart.

So, remember your people
Remember your children,
Remember your promise, oh God

Lily joined in singing–quietly at first. She discovered she was deepening into family and mystery.

(To be continued)

“Lily” (Part five)

“Well,” Tim said, “your dad definitely led in creating Covenant in this community, Beth. I knowimgres few people, men or women, who are as humble as your dad, but who are resolute in their determination to follow through on such a noble plan. To plant a school like Covenant, with its emphasis on character, not just facts, he and the school are remarkable testimonies to God’s providence.”

“Oh, you are so right, Tim,” Beth went on. “We at Covenant teach our kids about how important it is to be humble. We teach them about how Jesus is the lamb and the servant prophesied in Isaiah 53. We even have the kids memorize the whole passage by sixth grade! Isn’t that great? Oh Tim, you’re so right; we are really being used by the Lord at Covenant. It’s a special blessing of God, I believe.”

Lily didn’t raise her eyes from her metal chair during Beth’s blather. She (Lily) feared her facial expression would betray her view of Miss Rusty-hair. Beth wouldn’t know God’s blessing were it wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, Lily thought. Dear Lord, I feel sweat under my right armpit again.

 Riiinnnngggg! A bell sounded in the hallway just outside the door. Lily almost dissolved into her metal chair again. She was sure she was sweating now, but she rejoiced in the deliverance from the tower of air.

Fred, the kind man who had escorted her to Tim’s class, stood smiling against the wall where Lily could see him. After Miss Rusty-hair, Lily viewed Fred as her old faithful friend, though they’d met less than an hour ago, and he’d simply helped her to a class.

“How was that Sunday school class for you, Miss Lily? Did you enjoy Tim’s teaching?” Fred asked.

“I did enjoy Tim’s teaching very much,” Lily said, measuring her answer. She did not know, after all, Beth’s father’s name. Lily felt the sweat under her armpit again, and waited for Fred to ask another question on their way to the sanctuary.

(To be continued)

“Lily” (Part Two)

Fred was the man’s name that walked Lily to class. “How long have you been in town?” he asked.imgres

“Just a few weeks,” Lily said. “I’m a teacher at Covenant. I moved from Rook just last month. I don’t really know a lot of people at work yet, and those I do know–well, I don’t know if they’re active in a local church.”

“I’m talking too much,” Lily thought to herself, but she liked Fred. He seemed trustworthy. His gentle spirit put her at ease. He wore khakis, brown loafers, an off-brand long-sleeve plaid shirt, and brown tie. His thin brown hair was combed over a sun-splotched scalp. And he didn’t have ear hair, Lily noticed. He wore a gold wedding band on his left hand.

“This class I’m taking you to is for married and singles your age,” Ms. Lily, “is that alright?” Fred asked.

“Yessir. Thank you so much,” Lily said.

Entering the class, Fred addressed the teacher. “Tim, we have a guest this morning. This is Lily. She teaches at Covenant. She’s new to town.” Lily smiled nervously, wondering how she appeared to Tim and the class.

“Welcome to our class, Lily,” Tim said. “Please sit wherever you like.”

Metal folding chairs were arranged in a horseshoe pattern on the blue carpet. Tim had a stool and a small metal lectern near the dry erase board.

Feeling eyes upon her, Lily longed to sit. She saw an open chair near the door. As she approached it, she felt examined. As she sat, she gathered her skirt under her, crossed her right leg over her left, and pulled out her iPhone for the Bible app. She felt someone staring at her. Looking up from her phone, a woman was in front of her, between her and the teacher Tim. Lily’s stomach knotted. “Where are Donald and Fred now?” she thought.

“Hey–welcome to our class. I’m Beth! We’re so glad you’re here this morning!” From her metal chair, Lily looked up at Beth. Beth approached six feet tall, had bleached hair that was not blonde so much as orange–rust-colored, in fact. She had large-knuckled hands and black polish on fake nails. She was not wearing a wedding band, but wore rings of every dimension on all her fingers. She had bracelets on both wrists, and had gold crosses hanging from both earlobes. She jangled like a tinker.

(To be continued)