Rubbing Shoulders with a Gritty World

Jesus commands us to be salt and light in this world, a task very hard to do.  This is because of the almost seven billion other people who live on this planet, the ones we bump into everyday.

Even though we believers have the incredible indwelling of the Holy Spirit available to empower us to be a “Christ-like one” in front of them, we usually allow the world to dictate how we roll—and that’s usually down in the grime with them. Those folks are down in the dirt because they can’t help it; we, however, can.

I use myself as a prime example.  Last Saturday I went to do my first errand, the grocery store.  I picked up a few items, headed for the, you guessed it, the express line.  There were fewer people in my line and, hey, each only had a few things—I’d get in and out quicker, right?  Wrong.  One by one, the people in the express line in front of me each had a problem.  One dear lady couldn’t get her credit card to swipe.  Another took her blessed time in handwriting a check for her groceries.   Another decided he really didn’t want one or two items after all, and could the nice cashier take it off his bill?  I breathed deeply, rolled my eyes, and tried to take it in stride.

Then I drove down the 15-501 bypass to my next destination, merging into the fast lane.  I’m staying just ten miles above the speed limit, passing up some major turtles in the slow lane.  I was zipping along, doing great, until a big black pick-up truck with some major attitude decides I’m not going fast enough in the fast lane for him.  I can tell this by the way he hangs on my bumper.  So I look for a safe opportunity to get out of his way, but I’ve still got a bank of cars on my right.  I finally see my break coming, plan my move.  I flip my turn signal on to get over, look in my rearview, and notice he’s gone.

It’s then that I hear him.  Now he’s in the right lane, barreling down, racing to get ahead of me.  Just about the time we reach another turtle in the right lane, the humongous truck whips over in the fast lane just ahead of me, missing me by inches, giving me a discourteous salute as he leaves me in his dust.  I would like to say I handled that situation correctly.  But I didn’t. My patience was pretty thin by now. I must admit I said a few unkind things about the thoughtless driver who almost bought the farm and took me along with him.

Next I dashed into Target. I did a quick grab-by of an armful of things and what I thought were a couple of tasteful graduation cards and headed to the checkout.  Again, I chose what I thought was the shortest line. The two college-age young ladies in front of me loaded their various picnic items onto the conveyor belt, leaving their shopping cart to clog the very back of the aisle where I was, juggling my bulky items. They never moved the cart to the opposite end where they were both bagging groceries, each carrying on separate conversations with their cell phones glued to their ears.  Okay, they’re distracted, I think.

The cashier rings up the total.  At that exact moment, one girl turns to the other in wide-eyed innocence, saying, “Oh, you know, I forgot the beer.”  She squeezes past the cart that’s still blocking the way, squeezes past me with my arms full, and saunters out toward the grocery section of the store.

The cashier asks the second girl for the money and she calmly nods in the general direction of the first.  She tells the cashier her friend’s going to pay. Besides, she’ll be right back, it shouldn’t take too long.  She stands on tiptoe, occasionally looking for her forgetful friend, still chattering away incessantly on her phone. The cashier eyes those bags upon bags of groceries, and decides right then and there that she’s not going to cancel the order and have all that work to do for the second time.

So there we stand, the four of us (there is now another woman behind me).  We wait. The cashier and young woman never meet my eyes, never bother to acknowledge that there’s going to be a delay, sorry about that.

That’s it—I snap.  I suddenly shove the cart way forward with my hip; I can’t push it with my hands because I might drop something I’m holding and break it.  My face is red-hot, I feel my blood pressure rise, and everyone around can now tell that I am not amused.  I release my items to the belt with a thump.  The first girl finally takes the hint, silently pulls the cart the rest of the way to the end, finally starts loading her groceries.  I keep fuming and glancing at my watch, because I know I have better things to do with my Saturday instead of standing in line at Target.

The second girl flits up nonchalantly, pushing past me, past her friend, rings up her twelve-pack, pays for the whole kit and caboodle, and finally leaves.  I was still entertaining unpleasant thoughts about the inconsiderate duo as I crossed over into the parking lot.

Within the confines of my car on the way home (and in the slow lane, I might add) the Lord nudged me.  I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, graciously forgiven, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, privileged to live within the abundance of His blessings—but sadly, I couldn’t endure one afternoon of rubbing shoulders with the world before I became just like them.  I had to confess my sin right then and there.

In each situation, I failed.  I didn’t see those people through Holy Spirit eyes.  I just saw my “rights” being violated.  That’s the problem with being in the world—we often get dirty.  Our thoughts, our actions slowly degenerate into something quite different than we intended.  It’s usually about that point we raise a defiant fist and declare “We ain’t gonna take it no more!”

We cannot be salt and light by ourselves, admit it.  That’s why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us, to empower us.  But we have to be willing to listen to His still, small voice, to follow His lead, and to be obedient.

Let’s be Christ followers and not dirt wallowers.  It’s our choice.

Lookin’ up,

Sislyn/Ps. 19:1

Ariel

You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” Jer. 29:13


            “The visitor’s card says ‘801 Great Stone Way,’ Mace,” said Lindy Mitchell, her eyes shifting between the card in her hand and mailboxes on the street.

Her husband, Mace Mitchell, slowed the car until they found a shiny black mailbox with brass numbers of 801. “This is it,” Mace said, turning in. They rambled through a natural wooded area into a clearing with a large house built in it, well-hidden from the road.

At the end of the circular drive loomed a white-bricked mansion. Clusters of bright flowers, shrubs, and small trees tastefully graced the grounds.  A small fountain gurgled.

Lindy exited the car.  “Wow,” was all she could whisper. “Really nice.”  She read the card. Ariel and Derek Farmer, with twin girls Sadie and Maddie. They moved here a month ago and have attended Beal Street Church for the past three Sundays.”  Lindy glanced at her husband. “Our church must have something they like.”

Mace joined her, staring up.  “Yeah. I might get a raise if the Farmers keep on finding things to like,” he said, a playful grin crooking his mouth.

She jabbed him, hoping no one saw through the myriad windows.  “Ixnay on the itchay-atchay,” she said in a low voice

Mace rang the doorbell, took a step back.

An attractive red-headed woman in a white sleeveless blouse and khaki capris swung open the door, a smile on her heart-shaped face. Heavy gold earrings glittered at her ears, bringing out the professionally-done highlights in her layered bob.  “Hello!  You’re the music pastor from Beal Street, aren’t you?”   From her rapid-fire accent, Ariel must have been raised up north somewhere.

“Please, won’t you come in?” she asked, whisking them inside.  The woman extended a French-manicured hand.  “I’m Ariel Farmer.”

Hiding behind their mother were the twins—about kindergarten age.  Their coppery hair was tied back with matching ribbons and was a shade lighter than their mother’s. The two stared out around their mama’s tanned legs with enormous eyes.  “This is Maddie, and this is Sadie, my twin girls.  I’m afraid my husband Derek is still at work.”

“I’m Mace Mitchell.”

“And I’m Lindy.”  She waggled a little wave to the girls, who both giggled at the same time.

“Come, sit down,” Ariel offered.  “Can I get you anything to drink? Tea, soda, or coffee?”

“No, don’t go to any trouble,” Mace said.  “We’re here to talk about the church, maybe answer any questions you might have about Beal Street.”

“Then I’ll try to come up with a few.” The corners of Ariel’s mouth swept up in a ready grin. “Girls, why don’t you bring some toys out here so Mommy can talk to Mace and Lindy?”

She and Mace were directed to a leather sectional, while Ariel kicked off her expensive-looking sandals, pulling her feet under her.  The girls retrieved a doll with a handful of doll clothes each and sat in the floor in front of her.

Mace settled into his seat.  “How’d you come to Beal Street Church?”

Ariel explained that their move from another state was a result of Derek’s new position in a Raleigh law firm.  As for Beal Street Church, they happened upon the picturesque house of worship during a family drive one evening and “liked the looks of it,” deciding right then and there to attend the next Sunday.

Ariel detailed for Lindy and Mace the rest of their history:  Married for seven years.   They bounced from location to location through the end of Derek’s college years, law school, his first law position, and finally here, “hopefully for a good long time,” Ariel said firmly.

“What about you, Ariel?  Do you work outside the home?”

“Not right now.  Until the twins came along, I managed retail in several high-end clothing stores, although—” she admitted, “—I almost spent more than I earned. That used to work Derek up into a full head of steam, it did.” Ariel twirled her hand like a game show hostess. “You see, I happen to like nice things.”

Lindy glimpsed the evidence. Overstuffed leather furniture, parsed into three conversation areas within the cavernous room.  Large canvases on the walls, splashed with bright amoebas of color. Fantastic fiberoptic chandeliers, works of art in themselves, hung from the ceiling. A billiard table on ornate carved legs manned the far end of the room.  Beyond the French doors, a gleaming blue pool beckoned.

Lindy shifted in her seat.  She’d probably never shopped any of the stores that Ariel worked in, never even bothered to glean the clearance racks.  Lindy didn’t know this woman well, but as she listened and observed her lifestyle, everything in Ariel’s life seemed big, larger than life.  She lived on a whole different plane of existence than she—simple, old Lindy Mitchell—did.

Mace sat forward.  “So, Ariel, can we answer any questions about Beal Street?”

“Everyone’s been so warm and welcoming at church, they really have.  The girls love going.  And I really, really love the music in the contemporary worship service.  Have you guys always had a  contemporary service?”

Lindy realized she’d stopped listening to the audible conversation around her, honing in on the one in her head instead.  She knew the still, small voice.   Ariel needs friends, Lindy.

Lindy scooted a bit closer to the armrest as Mace and Ariel continued their chat.  Lord, I understand that. They just moved to town. But I’m sure she’ll seek out those ladies at the country club, the wives of her husband’s law partners, the others who run in her circles.  I mean, look at this place.  Everything about her says “money.”

But she needs you to be her friend, Lindy.

Lindy glanced over.  Ariel laughed a high, tinkly laugh, her eyes lasered on Mace as he talked.  Her well-manicured fingers went to one of the small silky heads sitting at the couch’s edge.  She began to play with a loose strand of hair, extending a wisp, letting it go.  Picking another strand, letting it go.

Lindy eyed the ceiling.  Lord, look at this place.  What could Ariel and I possibly have in common?

She’s seeking Me, Lindy.  And I want you to help her to find what she’s looking for.

Mace’s words filtered their way back into her consciousness. “You know, I love both kinds of worship, the traditional and the new,” he said.  “Both can be used to glorify God.  Anyway that, in a nutshell, is the story of how Lindy and I ended up at Beal Street.”

Ariel was hugging her legs underneath her, transfixed on Mace’s every word.  Past the highlighted hair, the nails, the creamy complexion, Lindy could see hunger for something in those eyes.

Okay, Lord, Lindy prayed, You win.  But You’ve gotta help me bridge the differences, Lord, because you know I’m not exactly Chatty Cathy.

She had a thought.  Julia’s Bible study, that’s it!  She cleared her throat and spoke up.  “Ariel,  do you know about the new women’s Bible study just beginning at Beal Street?”

She turned to Lindy with eager eyes.  “I think I heard Brother Bill mention it in the announcements.  Can you tell me more?”

“Julia Peters, Brother Bill’s wife, is heading it up as facilitator.  It will focus on a godly woman’s roles in the home, the church, and the world.”  Lindy picked at a thread on her jean skirt.   “You know, Julia’s hoping for a real mix of ages in the study, both young and old alike.  She says there’s a lot we can learn from each other as women.”

Ariel’s face crumpled, for a sliver of a second, into a microcosm of palpable wistfulness.  Then just as quickly, it smoothed into a veneer of poise.

“You know,” she said, “I could do that.”  She paused to stroke the other twin’s head. “The twins are in a preschool a couple of days a week.  If the study is scheduled for one of the days while they’re in school, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Oh, I forgot to mention there’ll be childcare at the church; Julia’s going to arrange for it.  You could bring the girls with you, if you want to.  Julia did that so anyone who wants to, can come and not have to look for a babysitter.”

“Great,” said Ariel smiling.  “I’ll keep my ears perked for the starting date and mark it on my calendar.”

Restless from playing, Sadie and Maddie moved from the floor to the couch, pressing themselves into their mother.

Mace took the hint and stood.  So did Lindy.  “Well, we’ll let you get back to taking care of these little girls.”  He touched their coppery heads.  “Sadie, Maddie, you keep on coming with Mom and Dad to Beal Street.  Now that I know who you are, I’ll be looking for you, okay?”

The twins shyly grinned at each other, at their mother, and then at them. “Okay,” they said in unison.

“They’re so quiet,” Mace marveled. “Are they always this quiet?”

Ariel stood also.  “Heavens, no. Just around people they don’t know very well. Wait till they get to know you better. They can be regular little chatterboxes!”

The adults made their way to the foyer. Lindy spoke first. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet Derek.”

“Me, too,” Mace agreed. “Maybe we’ll get the chance to speak to him at church.”

Ariel clamped her lips together, released them. “Maybe you will, I hope so.  Derek’s trying to make a good impression for his new bosses right now, so he’s working a lot of hours.”  A half-smile darted across her face.  “Sometimes he goes into the office on Sundays, too, though I tell him he shouldn’t do that.”

Mace sidled up next to Lindy.  “That’s okay.  We’ll catch him eventually, I’m sure.  It was very nice to meet you, Ariel.  Remember, Lindy and I’ll be glad to help you any way we can.”

“And I’ll be praying for you, that you can attend the Bible study,” Lindy said, taking her hand.

Ariel’s face lengthened with all seriousness as she gripped back.  “You would?  You’d pray for me?  I’d really, really appreciate that.”

“If you’d like, we’ll pray with you before we leave,” Mace suggested, pulling them into a circle.

In the car’s rearview, Lindy watched the white-washed bricks of the mansion become less distinct and then disappear behind a veil of woods.

I want you to be a friend, the Voice confirmed within her. Ariel’s seeking Me, Lindy. I want you to help her find what she’s looking for.

I will, Lord.  I’ll certainly try.

What’s in a Name?

online-reference.org

I’ve had some to ask  “Who is Sislyn Stewart?” and “Why do you have a pen name?”  For writers, there are logical reasons to assume a pen name:

  1. Your real name is hard to remember and/or spell correctly.  If you have one of those long Czech names with “ski” on the end, you might want a change.
  2. Your real name sounds silly, stupid or obscene. If your real name suffers from any of these problems, you’ll have a harder time getting readers to accept your work.
  3. Your real name is the same as, or similar to, another author or a famous figure.
  4. You are reclusive or fear fame, and want to make sure that regardless of how famous you might become, people won’t recognize your name everywhere you go.
  5.  If you are already an established author, you might want to use a pen name because of issues similar to brand name loyalty.

Good ole’ #3 is mine.  When you google “Huffman AND writer,” several references immediately pop with the last name of Huffman: Heather, Alan.  Then there are those who even share the same initials as me: John, Jenna, and yes, even a Joan Huffman.  (And don’t even get me started on how prolific the Hoffman name is in literature!)

Another consideration in taking a pen name is that it needs to have a certain flow, a grace as it is said aloud.  It also needs a memorable flair, something that sticks in your brain, so folks in the bookstore can scratch their head and say to themselves, “What was that author’s name again?  I think the initials were S.S.  Last name—can’t remember.  But the first name, Sis, sis-something? Sislyn, that’s it.”

So in a nutshell, “Sislyn” is an uncommon first name.  There is no published or unpublished writer by the name Sislyn Stewart recorded by Google, except for me.  (Go there and look sometime.)

Why the “Stewart” then?  It simply sounded good with Sislyn.  (My apologies  to Randy & Kim, Bob & Ruth, Ryan & Beth.)  Funny thing is, it’s relative.  If I look hard enough, I’ve probably got a Stewart hiding in the branches of my mother’s Scotch-Irish family tree somewhere!

Lookin’ up,

Sislyn/Ps. 19:1