“Lily” (Part eleven)



The pastor disappeared behind the chancel area. The congregation looked wide-eyed and nervously at each other. Some sprinted towards the woman’s scream. Other people knelt behind their pews.

Finally the pastor appeared at the lectern. “Beulah, I don’t know exactly how to say this, but our beloved Fred Aims has apparently had a heart attack and died. Our elders have called for an ambulance. Two of our members are EMTs  and they are with Mrs. Ellen and Beth now. I know this is awkward, but please try to remain calm. As soon as we know something definitive, we will put that information out. For now, however, let us join in prayer for the Aims family.”

Lily tried to focus on the pastor’s public prayer but she could not silence her own thoughts.

“In Jesus’s name, Amen,” the pastor concluded, but Lily had lost sense of time and place. How could she go to Mrs. Ellen? They’d never even met. How could she express her condolences to her, or especially to Beth?

Lily admitted to herself that her sadness had an element of selfishness. She felt Fred was her only friend in church, and Beth was his daughter. Beth! Who would replace Fred in leadership at Covenant? Beth is so unlike her father.

“Miss Lily, are you okay?” It was Donald. His soft white hand touched Lily’s left elbow, and his voice coated her nervous mind.

“Oh, Mr. Donald! Yes, I suppose I am,” Lily said, “but I cannot really believe what has happened.”

“But how are you? Are you friends with Mr. Fred Aims?” Lily asked, gathering herself.

“Yes. Fred and I farmed together out off Highway 91 for years. Our farms almost joined property lines except for some pines managed by the power company,” Donald said. “Fred is one of the finest men I know, Miss Lily.”

Confirmation gripped Lily’s soul. She and Donald understood something about Fred, about character, about friendship.

“Fred grew soybeans and peanuts. But I grew cotton and corn most years,” Donald continued.

Lily thought Donald’s fingers were too soft to be a farmer’s hands. She caught the scent of Jergens.

“I have grown sons who now farm it for me,” Donald continued. “But Fred had daughters. I think you know Beth, who went into education. Anyway, the other girls moved off and Fred left off farming when God called him to begin Covenant. I don’t even know what to think about what will happen at the school, Miss Lily.”

Donald at her elbow. That’s almost all Lily could remember of Sunday, after Beth’s scream. Donald at her elbow. His solicitousness. A new friend? Why am I drawn to older people and they to me? I have an old soul, she thought, a middle-aged Holden Caulfield with Beth phonies running the school. And dear Lord, she purports to counsel, with a soul hard as a pine knot?

February’s days lumbered. It was Monday, and Lily peppered herself by way of staccato interrogation: When will you cease pouting? Why repeat ‘Fred is gone’? So what if Beth becomes headmistress? Does God revoke his promises? Did God call you to Covenant?


 When Lily entered the teachers’ lounge to make copies Monday at 6:45 A.M. that was the day’s first greeting.

(To be continued)









“Lily” (Part ten)



After Beth slid past Lily and walked away with Donald, Lily’s thoughts raced. I’ve never seen apastor 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 nine)



Beth turned her face towards Lily. “Did you want something?” she whispered. A bead of sweat rolled from Lily’s right armpit into her palm. “No, I was just thinking,” she whispered toBeth. “Me, too,” Beth said.

Lily looked back at the pastor as Beth twisted the many rings on her fingers.

“That is why,” the pastor said, “the elders and I wanted to use today as a moment to recognize one of our own.”

Lily refocused upon the pastor’s words. “We have an individual here at Beulah this morning that does not seek the spotlight. In fact, this person’s role is more about directing others in the ways God has for them,” the pastor continued.

Lily’s nerves in her hips twitched as Beth shifted her weight on the pew beside her.

Suddenly, Donald, the man who had first greeted Lily at the front door of the church, tapped Lily on the shoulder. “Lily, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need to speak with Ms. Beth, please, in private.”

“Of course,” Lily said, and turned to let Beth out. Beth left off turning her rings and stood, smiling assuredly at Don. They walked to the back of the nave and disappeared around the corner. Towards the front, Lily wondered. What is going on?

 (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.

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 sang, 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)





“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 someonefrom 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)