Lily (Part forty-six)

Tim offered to escort Lily towards the sanctuary but she declined after she saw Nathanael waiting down the corridor. She bade Tim farewell and walked towards Nathanael. He pushed himself off the wall against which he had been standing and smiled at Lily when she neared him.

“All okay, Ms. Rood?”

“Yes. Tim was welcoming me back to Beulah again. We talked about his class, today’s lesson, and about my move here. He is attentive.”

“Tim’s an excellent teacher,” Nathanael said. “He has known my extended family for years. In a lot of ways, he saw me grow up. Mom, Dad, and I lived up in the northern part of the state in the city, but Tim always kept up with our family.”

“Is he from here?” Lily asked.

“Born and raised. He is one of Beulah’s best. He is from this town but he is not provincial. I think it is safe to say he is wise. He has taught at this church ever since I was in the nursery.”

“You are making me feel old, Nathanael.”

“Well, I’m a bit younger, Ms. Rood, but I think we have similar callings. We both value education. And I share your taste for literature. It was my favorite subject when I was in school, remember? We spoke of this before.”

“I do recall.”

“Well, should we enter the sanctuary?” Lily asked.

“You go ahead, Ms. Rood. I am waiting for someone.”

Lily felt her face redden. “Yes, of course,” she said.

(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 (Forty-four)

Aaron was the last to exit the room. His disappearance left a hush in Tim’s Sunday school class. Ruth, the middle sister, departed silently, along with Sarah. Nathanael remained beside Lily in equipoise.

Tim knew to refocus the class on the passage under discussion. “Do you feel sympathy towards Naomi?” Tim asked the class.

Lily wanted Nathanael to speak up but he remained quiet in observation, stolid.

“I do, Tim,” Lily said. “She is not from Moab. She went there with her family with thoughts of it being better than where she had left. And yet—”

“Yes?” Tim said. “Is there more?”

“Well, rather than better fortune for her and her family in Moab, she has experienced misfortune and suffering. Her husband and sons have died. She has two daughters-in-law. And she is battling bitterness towards God because she believed she had done the right things,” Lily said.

Tim nodded and looked out at the class from his stool. Several people nodded silent agreement with Lily’s analysis.

“That seems spot on, Lily.”

“Of course Naomi had a battle to wage. But she needed to just get on with it,” Beth retorted. “Death occurs in our families. I should know. But we must go on. That’s what I would have done.”

Lily felt movement at her elbow. “Beth, how long has my grandfather been dead?” Nathanael asked.

“Why you!” Beth snarled. “This is not about Daddy.”

“Exactly, Beth. This passage about Naomi and Ruth is not about Granddaddy–and it’s not about you either,” Nathanael said.

Lily felt trapped as if among brambles. She looked up at Tim.

“There is much occurring here,” Tim said. “Can we all agree that Naomi had at least a lot to sort out, to battle, to perhaps even learn from?” Almost all of the class appeared to nod in agreement.

“Yet, as Beth brought up, Naomi did continue in spite of death and deep sadness, even in a place where she was an alien,” Tim said.

This seemed to mollify most of the class. Lily wanted Nathanael to say more but he remained silent and composed. Beth sat with her forearms folded across her chest. Her bracelets clanked upon one another in cacophony as the class bell sounded in the hall to dismiss for the worship service.

“May we pray together about what we have seen here this morning?” Tim asked.

Most of the class members closed their eyes. Many heads leaned forward as if in petition. Beth remained upright on her metal chair. Lily leaned slightly towards Nathanael to feel his presence. He pressed one forearm towards Lily as if in solace, as Tim addressed the God of Naomi.

(To be continued)

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-one)

When class ended, Donald was standing in the corridor, near where Fred had been the week before. “How was Tim’s class this week, Ms. Lily?”

“Good once again. I appreciate Tim’s method. He reads the text but then he asks questions about what God teaches about himself, about us, and about how he shapes our ends,” Lily said.

“Tim’s like that. He is a student of the Word. He is slow, not slow the way I am as an old man, but careful. Methodical, you might say,” Donald said. When Donald said the word methodical he gesticulated, and Lily inhaled the Jergen scented air.

Walking the corridor with Donald, Lily heard the congregation already singing a song she remembered from last week:

So, remember your people

Remember your children

Remember your promise, oh God

 Tim’s class had gone long by a couple of minutes, and the majority of Beulah’s body had gathered in the sanctuary. As she walked with Donald and neared the sanctuary doors, a stab of pain shot through Lily’s hip and lower back, causing her to pause momentarily. She smiled to herself, thinking, I limp like Miss Havisham.

“Are you okay, Miss Lily?” Donald asked.

“Yessir. I’m fine, thank you. At times, I get these pains,” Lily said.

“Just wait, dear,” Donald said. “God has his ways, doesn’t he?”

“Yessir. He does.”

Donald looked up when he saw his wife sitting in their usual spot, and said goodbye to Lily.

Lily looked across the congregation, and spotted Mrs. Ellen Aims where she and Fred normally sat together. A crowd was gathered around her. Sarah, Aaron, and Nathanael were there, too. Beth was there, leaning over her mother, and talking to the group about how strong her mother was, and how grateful she was for everyone’s sympathy.

Lily looked for the young married couple who’d been on a pew a few rows behind Fred and Ellen last week, but they were not there, so she looked to the other side of the congregation, and found a pew a few rows behind Mr. Donald and his wife. She softly joined in the words of the chorus. But the specter of a restless night haunted her mind, and the board meeting was early tomorrow morning.

(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)