Suzette

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Ps. 18:2

Lindy Mitchell scanned the fellowship hall amidst the crowd.  Nice decorations, she thought, fingering pieces of “Happy Birthday!” confetti strewn across a table.  Blue and white streamers swagged to the lights.  Shiny helium balloons tugged on their ribbons.

Two Beal Street Church deacons came in, parting the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea.  The blindfolded man they escorted, still looking dignified in the navy suit and tie he’d worn that day to preach in, was none other than Bill Peters, senior pastor at Beal Street.  The men carefully sat the pastor down in a chair at one of the paper-covered tables.

Which was Lindy’s husband Mace’s cue to thunder, “All right, Suzette!  You’re on!”

Suzette Tambeau, her wiry hair and brown skin set off by a coral cotton top, edged backwards through the kitchen door. In her hands tiered an enormous chocolate cake. Everyone in the room held their breath.  Instead of the usual candles, lit sparklers graced the top.  It was nothing short of a miniature fireworks display.

Suzette set the dessert down.  The blindfold was removed, and Bill Peters audibly gasped.  She flashed a white smile.  “For Brother Bill,” she said, “and may God give you many more.”

Suzette began to sing, joined in by the rest of the congregation.  Her alto shimmered in fluid vocal runs, the words falling like gentle rain:

Happy birthday to you—

 Happy birthday to you—

Happy birthday, Brother Bill—

Happy birthday, to you.”

Suzette gave the older man a hug, and the place erupted with cheers.  Julia Peters hugged her husband as well.

“My goodness!”  Brother Bill said. “Suzette, don’t tell me this is your wonderful Doberge cake!  Oh, somebody find me a fork,” he hollered, “and do it quick!”  There was an appreciative ripple of laughter.

Suzette removed the defunct sparklers and handed him a cake server.  “Since it’s your birthday,” she said,  “you can cut the cake, you.”

“Pastor gets first piece,” somebody in the crowd yelled.

“You better believe I’m getting the first piece,” he said.  The crowd tittered.

He sliced into the frosting and stopped.  He sawed harder, stopped.  He tried once more, really leaning into it, without success.  Other than a huge divot of displaced chocolate icing, the cake was still intact.

Brother Bill’s mouth gaped in disbelief, he closed it.  He opened it again, closed it.

“Hey y’all, for once I think Brother Bill’s speechless,” a church member piped up.

“God says in Ecclesiastes there is a time for everything,” said someone else.  Everyone laughed.

Suzette stepped in.  “Here, cher, let me show you somet’ing.”  Lindy noted Suzette’s “cher” came out with a Louisianan flare, pronouncing it like the “sha” in “shack.”

Cake server in hand, Suzette proceeded to bulldoze the chocolate icing from the cake’s top.  Brother Bill groaned.  “No worries, no worries,” she said, patting his shoulder.  “But Pastor, you couldn’t eat this here cake, even if you wanted to.”

She took Brother Bill’s index finger, punched it deep into the exposed layers.  His eyes widened in recognition.  “Hey, it’s foam rubber,” he said.  “Suzette—you made me a fake cake!”

Suzette grinned a devilish smile.  “I did, sir, I did.”  She nodded to the kitchen.  “The real one’s in there, so don’t nobody go nowheres.  I’ll bring it out, and then we have some real goooooo-oddd cake!”

The church family broke out in claps and whistles.  Men standing near Brother Bill slapped him on the back.  Some even stepped up to take a poke at the cake themselves. Happy sounds filled the room.

Suzette headed towards the kitchen, with Lindy close behind.

Suzette Tambeau sang in Mace’s adult choir, was one of the church’s most talented singers, though Lindy barely knew her.  They were relegated to opposite ends of the choir loft, with Lindy barely managing a decent soprano and Suzette commanding the entire alto section.

Lindy cautiously approached.  The plump young woman was bent over the real thing, busy at work.

Lindy cleared her throat. “Suzette, you need any help?”

Suzette whirred around, the knife coated in sticky glaze and cake crumbs.  Her dark eyes took Lindy in, and she grinned.  “Cher, I never turn down help, you’ll find that out tout suite.”  She motioned to a stack of paper plates.  “You hand me some of them plates there, put the pieces on that big tray, take them out for me, okay?”

Lindy hustled the full tray out.  Each piece was claimed quickly, and Lindy returned for more.

Lindy licked frosting off her pinkie as she watched the woman’s practiced hands move in a blur.  Suzette began cutting yet a second similar cake, sliding the pieces onto the tray.

“So while we here, Mrs. Mace,” Suzette said, “tell me ‘bout you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“There’s not much to tell,” Lindy said, rearranging a few plates.

“Go on, you. Tell me anyway.”

“Let me take this out first.”  Lindy took the cake out, quickly emptying her tray again.

Suzette continued in the kitchen in the meantime, although the chatter had now dried up.  She’s waiting, Lindy realized.

She started by telling Suzette how,  after she and Mace had married and opened up Maces’ lifelong dream, a sporting goods store,  God ended up calling Mace into the ministry.  So they trusted God, sold the store, packed off to seminary for two years.  When the position at Beal Street Church became available after Mace’s  graduation, they felt God calling them there to serve.

Suzette snuck a look Lindy’s way.  “You how old?”

“Twenty-six.”

Suzette lifted her chin, pushed out her lips. “What you do all day, Mrs. Mace?”

“I write.”

“You write, huh?  What you write?”

“All kinds of things, mostly articles for magazines.  I get an assignment, I research it, then I write it.”

“You like that?”

Lindy squinted.  “Yeah, I do. My degree’s in elementary education, but a friend got me started in freelance writing.  It’s worked out great because I can control my hours, write when I want to.”

“I tell you now, that’s why I make cakes and clean houses.  I can do it when I need to, so I can be there for my kids.  Ain’t nothin’ more important than that,  ‘specially if you doing it by yourself.”  She sighed.  “But I don’t want to clean and bake forever.  I got plans, big plans, you know what I’m saying, cher?  One of these days, I tell you, I won’t be doing that no more.”

Ambitious lady.  Lindy watched her another moment and knew she’d get there, without a doubt.

Lindy nodded to a small sliver of cake, fallen to the side.  “You mind if I take this one off your hands? I’m dying for a piece.”

“Go ahead, Mrs. Mace.  Tell me what you t’ink.”

Moist, thin layers of chocolatety goodness filled her mouth, accented with secondary notes of  a full-bodied semisweet frosting.  Then another explosion, this time from the chocolate custard cream oozing out between layers, hit her.  What a heavenly dessert!  She ate it all, licked up every crumb.  “Suzette, that’s the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had.  No joke.”

“It is good, that cake.   I make it the way my grand-mere show me.  She worked in a bakery in New Orleans called Gambino’s where they come up with the recipe.”

“Well, it’s gooo-oooddd, as you say.”  Lindy grinned.

A girl, her hair neatly cornrowed and clipped in purple barrettes, ran into the kitchen.  She crossed her arms over her chest. “Mama, Devaun’s making fun of me!  He’s calling me a baby around the other kids.”

Suzette waved the knife.  “Lindy, this is my Portia.  Portia, this is Miss Lindy. Say ‘hi.’”

“Hi,” the child said.

Lindy smiled.  “Hi, Portia.”

Suzette put a hand on her hip. “You go tell your brother I said he needs to stop doing that.”

“I did, Mama, but he won’t listen.” Tears threatened.  “Devaun just won’t listen to me.”

“Brothers can be like that,” Lindy said.  “I know.  I have an older one too.”

Suzette finished off the second cake, rinsed her hands in the sink, pushed Portia toward the door.  “Then we just go find Mr. Devaun and tell him what’s what.  You not a bebe; you six years old, last time I looked.  Too old to wear diapers and too old for a pacifier.  Not a bebe at all.”  She looked at Lindy.  “Will you excuse us?”

Suzette stopped on her way out.  “I’m glad I know Mrs. Mace better now.  See you in choir, cher.”  She pointed.  “And keep it real, okay?”

The Holy Spirit – An Introduction, Part Two

First, a short prayer—Thank You, Father God, for the compass of Your Word.  Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit Who distills and instills Your Word into our lives.  We want to know You, Lord, in a more intimate, deeper walk.  Teach us how to be truly teachable. We ask these things in Jesus’ precious name because they will honor and glorify You. Amen.

I asked in an earlier post why it is that we believers in the conservative American church know far less about and acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s daily role in our lives, as compared to the Father and to Jesus.  I received some interesting answers.  Most folks can’t really seem to put their finger on the reason.

Maybe it has to do with what we believe about God:

  • The Holy Spirit is not set forth in Scripture as the Object or Initiator in the work of atoning salvation as the Father and Son are.
  • Or because the Father and Son are constantly associated with each Other in Scripture, and no personal declarations are ever recorded as coming from the Spirit.
  • Or better yet, the Spirit’s work as Executor of God’s will is often attributed in an impersonal way to God in general, instead of specifically to Him.

Each of these reasons has its own merits.  However, I think it has less to do with theology than it does our own deep-seated fears.

  • Fear of swinging too far towards emotionalism in the Spirit realm.  Please don’t make us like that charismatic group down the street that gets all hyped up and “lets loose” in the church house.
  • Fear of what God might want or require of us, should we really get to know Him in an intimate way.  Please, Lord, I don’t want You to send me to be a missionary overseas.
  • Perhaps it’s just due to our comfortable-where-I’m-at, laissez-faire way of living in the States.  American Christians (and I include myself in this) have become attendance-driven, entertainment-seeking consumers.  Too many times we often look like, act like the world.  We don’t relate well at all to the picture of a self-sacrificing servant, keenly attuned to the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice.   That level of Christianity is best suited to the most dedicated, to the most spiritual among us.  We’re not ready to go to that kind of trouble. Yet.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear.  The something that most of us feel is deeply missing from our churches and lives is actually a Someone, the third Person of the Trinity, God’s palpable presence in our world.

Frances Chan in his excellent book Forgotten God says:

Without Him [the Holy Spirit], people operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results.  The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation.  And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit.  But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural.  The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.

If we are honest, we admit we’ve missed the boat much of the time in experiencing the Spirit.  To see this first-hand, one only needs to travel any of several places around the globe where God’s Church is Spirit-rich.  Those local bodies are full of His workings and there in their midst, we are the real paupers.  These impoverished, often persecuted believers have no recourse but to depend on the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives, or they perish.  The evidence?  Outpourings of spiritual blessings abound.  Lives are supernaturally changed.  Laid side-by-side next to a description of the first-century church, they resemble the early church much more than we do.

Then how do we, the American conservative church,experience the Holy Spirit more richly? How do we change the status quo?

Or is the real question:  Do we want to change?

God wants humble hearts.  Teachable spirits.  We may already possess some biblical head knowledge of the Spirit.  But unless that knowledge makes its way down into the heart, and into a tender heart at that, the Spirit’s work in us will be stunted, repressed, quenched.   God wants so much to display Himself through His people.  And to what end?  You know this already—it is because He intensely desires to draw all men (and women, and children) to a saving grace of Jesus Christ.

So a fervent desire for more of Him, in cooperation with a thorough examination of the Scriptures— to make sure we’re seeing things the way God sees it—is the path to discovering the Person of the Holy Spirit.   The Holy Spirit reveals His special work from the beginning of Genesis creation, until the end of days in Revelation’s apocalypse.  In future posts, we’ll examine the Holy Spirit’s attributes and roles throughout Scripture and glean what this means for us as believers.

Lookin’ up,

Sislyn/Eph. 5:16-17

Mace

“Be kind and compassionate one to another, forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Eph. 4:32

With her office door ajar, Lindy Mitchell typed.  She heard a door close and then several stray notes escape a guitar being removed from its case.

My goodness, she didn’t know Mace was home.  She heard the strumming of a few tentative chords.  Typing stopped altogether, and she rolled her office chair over for a better view.

The afternoon sun threw a golden glow upon their well-worn living room furnishings, where Mace had one foot propped on the threadbare ottoman, the instrument crooked under his arm.

His face, all serious now, was bent near the guitar.  His intense blue-green eyes shut to the world.  Graceful fingers stretched into the chords of a familiar song, and he began to sing softly. Lindy’s heart warmed to the rhythmic guitar and the rise and fall of his lyrical voice:

In the morning, when I rise—

In the morning, when I rise—

In the morning, when I rise—

Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus, give me Jesus—

You can have all this world,

But give me Jesus.

He slipped into the next verse, and she found herself humming along.

When I am alone—

Oh, when I am alone—

When I am alone—

Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus, give me Jesus—

You can have all this world,

But give me Jesus.

His eyes opened, met her gaze, and he motioned for her to join him on the couch.  She came next to him, trying to match her shaky soprano to his mellow tenor.

When I come to die—

Yes, when I come to die—

When I come to die—

Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus, give me Jesus—

You can have all this world,

But give me Jesus.

Lindy paused, watching Mace’s face.  They sang together through the end of the tag ending:

You can have all this world, you can have all this world,

You can have all this world,

But give me Jesus.(***)

His sure fingers found the resolving chords.  He turned to her, his eyes caught in a smile.  “Hey, that sounded pretty good.  You and I could do it as a duet next Sunday.  Whatcha say?”

“You should do it as a solo, Mace.  That‘s what would sound really good.”

He laughed.  “You always say that.  I wish you could hear yourself as I do, Lin.  Besides, you ought to know by now I wouldn’t let you get up there and sing unprepared.  We’d work it out so you were totally comfortable with it.”   He pulled the guitar strap off.

“I know, I know,” she said, wavering.  “Just let me think about it, okay?”

Another chuckle.  “Sure.  If and when you’re ready, we’ll do it.”

She hated disappointing him.  But he was the trained voice, not her.  The one for whom getting up in front of a crowd and singing his heart out was no problem, whatsoever.  For her?  Whenever she sang in public, her voice quivered.  And she hated the way her knees always turned to Jell-o.

Mace leaned back.  His right hand teased the cowlick at the top of her head.  “How’d your meeting go with Julia today?”

“Fine.”  She thought a moment.  “No, better than that.  It was great.”

“Wow, that’s a resounding endorsement.  What was it about?”

“Julia told me all about the upcoming ladies’ Bible study at Beal Street.  It’s to be based on Titus Two, you know those verses that say ‘older women teach the younger women.’  But she’s taking it a step further.  She wants the younger women also to contribute from time to time, so it will be a learning experience between the generations.”

“With Julia as the teacher?  I imagine she’d be awesome. You know she’s been teaching Sunday School for years.”

“Julia said she’d teach when needed but would really be more like a facilitator.  I have to tell you, Mace, at first I thought she was asking me to teach the thing.  The thought of that scared me to half to death, till she let me know she wanted me there only as a member of the study and not to teach.”

He stroked her neck.  “But you love to teach.  It’s one of your gifts.”

“Yeah, but we both know that it’s children I feel comfortable with.  Standing in front of a bunch of ladies. . . ooooh.”  She shivered.

“God has a way of stretching our comfort zones, Belinda T. Mitchell, don’t forget that. Think of all the people in the Bible God asked to go beyond what they thought they were capable of.  He always equips followers to accomplish the tasks He gives.  Same principle applies today.”

She threw a pillow at him.  “Thanks for the sermonette, Brother Mace.  I’ll keep it in mind.”

He caught it, grinning. “Anytime.  Glad I could help.”  His hopeful eyes traveled to their adjoining kitchen.  “What are we having for dinner?  I worked straight through lunch today and am starving.”

She knew there was something at the back of her mind she’d been meaning to do!  With the lunch at Julia’s house and playing catch-up on her work this afternoon, she’d completely blanked out about dinner.

“Sorry, hon.  I hadn’t given much thought to it.”  She scrunched her face.  “I think there’s a frozen pizza in the back of the freezer.”

Mace raised his eyebrows, then let them slide.

Rats, now I’ve disappointed him about dinner too—what a terrible wife I am.   I should do better than this.

She was transported immediately to Edith Mitchell’s cheery kitchen, which she knew at this very moment would be filled with tantalizing smells and promises of home-cooked food for her father-in-law Hank.  Her Southern belle mother-in-law always made it look so easy!  And worst of all, this level of culinary competency was what Mace grew up with, came to expect.  A hot, nourishing meal to welcome him home at the end of each and every day.

Again, she resolved to do better.  Somehow.  “Honey, I’m so sorry,” she said.  “Really I am.  I don’t know where the time went.”

“Fortunately, I do know that there are places where a person can purchase a meal.  I believe they’re called restaurants.”  He brightened.  “Hey, I know we didn’t plan for it, but why don’t I take you out?  We could try that new Mexican place.”

As she looked at the dark curls framing his handsome face, her heart flooded with love for her husband.  Sweet, generous Mace.  How did she ever deserve someone like him?  Thank You, Lord.  She really would have to manage that meal-planning thing more efficiently in the future.

She leaned over and kissed him.  “Two meals in one day without ever having to turn on the stove?  I’ll give you a big ‘amen’ on that.”

***“Give Me Jesus”, Song and Lyrics by Fernando Ortega.