Conchita

“How can they believe in Him if they’ve not heard His message?  How can they hear if no one tells [the Good News]?” Romans 10:14

The tinkle of a bell greeted Lindy Mitchell as she entered the boutique, “The Painted Snail,” and closed the door behind her.  Bright displays of housewares on shelves and airy clothing on racks beckoned.  Her fingers itched to hold, to touch, to examine.

She did have that birthday gift for Sommer’s birthday she needed to buy before next week.  Maybe when she finished, she could browse around, find something a nine-year-old girl would love to have.

She breathed in. Coffee was brewing.  Very strong, aromatic coffee.

The owner of the store appeared from the back of the shop. “Hello, Lindy.”

“Hope I’m not too late.”  Lindy removed her backpack.

Conchita Alvarez, whom Julia Peters introduced her to not long after moving to Hope Springs, smiled, accentuating the laugh lines around her brown eyes.  “Not at all.  How’s Julia?  I haven’t talked to her lately.”

“Julia?  She’s fine. Getting geared up for a new Bible women’s Bible study at Beal Street.”

“Sounds like Julia.  Always busy with the Lord’s work.  Let’s go back here.” The sixty-something woman moved with grace amongst the aisles, and Lindy found herself at an iron table and chairs tucked into a corner. “I thought we’d talk better here. Would you like some coffee?  I’ve got Cuban coffee in the back.”

You’d never know the woman was born in a foreign country, Lindy marveled.  Her English was flawless.  “I’d love some.”

“Do you want cream?  Sugar?”

“Yes to both, please.”

“Be right back.”

Lindy took out a pad and pen.  When she visited the Painted Snail, it was like she’d stepped into another world.  One where conga music pulsed in the background, where blue water lapped along white-sand beaches.  A place where banana, guava, and mango trees grew tall along the roadsides, where tropical flavors and colors meshed into the fabric of everyday life.

Conchita set two small cups of caramel-colored liquid before them.  Lindy picked hers up.  “Umm. This is really good.”

“It’s café con leche.  Cuban coffee with boiled milk and sugar.  I’ve been drinking it since I was knee-high.”

“Conchita, thanks again for agreeing to this interview.  When I got my assignment to do a piece on the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban exile, I knew you were the person I needed to talk to.”

“My pleasure.”  Her head lifted, and the silver threaded amongst the dark curls glistened.  “And you must promise to call me Connie—like my family and friends do.  Now, what it is you would you like to know?”

Lindy consulted her pad.  “How old were you when you came to America, and what was the exile like?”

“My father, in Cuba, was what you call a self-made man.  He owned several pieces of real estate and rented his buildings to various businesses.  He was a very strict, very quiet man.  He made sure we were educated in the best schools, and he always paid attention to my grades.  I was thirteen years old when we left.  You were allowed to leave Cuba with only a restricted amount of personal goods, which had already been inventoried by the government by the time you applied and got your papers.  My mother actually came with her wedding rings hidden under her tongue, and I had an extra $10.00 inside my one of my socks.  This was a very dangerous thing to do, considering if you were caught, you would be detained and not allowed to exit.”

“What do you remember upon entering the United States?”

“I remember getting off the plane in Miami, where some of our extended family had relocated.  Everything about America was strange—the language, the food, the music.  Our family got my parents jobs, took us in and let us live with them for a while.  I remember going to school and feeling very lost and lonely in the beginning.  We were the ones with ironed skirts, white blouses, and hair ribbons, the school outfits we’d worn to school in Cuba, and we stuck out here like sore thumbs.  Eventually though, little by little I  became accustomed to the American food, the American way of life, even the American way teenagers talked to their parents.  This was very different than my original upbringing where you didn’t dare disagree with an adult.”

“How do you see yourself now?  Do you ever  think of yourself as an exile?”

“No, not really.  I am Cuban-American.  But I chose to become a U.S. citizen because the United States became my home.  The old people, like my mother, if you talk to them, they still murmur of returning to Cuba when Castro is gone.  To them, I think they consider themselves exiles here and are still deep in their hearts, fully Cuban.”

“Your mother is still living?”

Si, she lives with me and my family.  She will be ninety-five on her next birthday.   She is a precious old saint of God.  I’ll have to introduce you to her sometime.”

The phone interrupted.  “If you’ll excuse me.”  She went to a telephone located near the register.  “The Painted Snail. May I help you?”

Inside her head, Lindy heard a familiar Voice.  Invite her, Lindy.

To what, Lord?

To the Bible study.

Lindy stared at the ceiling.  Lord, you want me to ask her to the Bible study at Beal Street? I don’t even know what church she attends.  Why would she consider a study at our church?

 Just ask her.

She could choose to obey, or not to.  As she watched Connie talk animatedly on the phone, Lindy tried to see her as Jesus would.  An older, successful businesswoman certainly, but also one who might desire a deeper walk with Him.

By the time Connie hung up, Lindy had screwed up her courage.  Connie stood behind her chair, her eyes bright.  “Is there anything else I can tell you for your story?”

“That’s about it.  You’ve given me lots of good stuff, thank you so much.  This was great.”

“No, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story.  Not many people remember what Cuban-Americans went through back then, especially the young people.” She laid a hand on Lindy’s arm.  “I don’t include you in that group, Lindy.  It’s just that most don’t understand what a turbulent time it was, unless we remind them. History tends to repeat itself.  Your article is a good chance to do that.”

“If you’ll excuse me again,” Connie continued, “I’ve got a few things to unpack in the workroom before I open shop.”

“Connie, do you mind if look around?  I wanted to buy a gift for my niece’s birthday—“

She smiled.  “Help yourself.  I’ll be back there if you need me.”  She exited through a door and was gone.

Lindy could’ve kicked herself.  Why didn’t you ask her when you had the chance? She looked up.  I know Lord, I blew it.

She hated to bother Connie so soon.  Instead she let her fingers caress the colorful glassware, linens, and unique items in the boutique.  She let the breezy fabrics of the long skirts spill over her forearm, admiring their cheerful colors.  Next she wandered to the jewelry display, where she found a pair of sparkly crystal earrings, not too grown-up and not too expensive, that she knew Sommer would love.

She browsed a bit further.  She came across a ceramic rooster, hand-painted in her kitchen colors, his proud neck bowed, his beak open in a crow.  She turned the piece over.  In her price range too.  With the money she’d been paid for a recent article, she could afford a little whimsy.  It would look awesome in her kitchen, lend it a bit of a tropical flair.

She took her purchases to beaded door and knocked on the frame.  “Connie, I’m ready.  Can you ring me up?”

“Come on back.  I’ll be with you in a second.”

Lindy went through to an immaculate storeroom, each shelf packed and organized.  Connie was opening one large box on a butcher-block island in the middle of the room, box-cutter in hand.  She pulled out a few fluttery tops in bright colors, glanced at their labels, wrote something down on a clipboard.

Ask her, Lindy.

Connie looked up.  “Here, let me get those for you.”

Ask her.

 Lindy held up a hand.  “Wait, Connie.  Before you do that, I have something to ask you.”

The brown eyes widened.  “Yes?”

She gulped.  Her words rushed forth in a torrent. “You know the Bible study I mentioned?   The one Julia’s starting?  It will be focusing on women’s roles inside and outside the home as it says in Titus 2 and other biblical passages .  The older women have a lot of godly insights to share with younger women, and in turn, we might have a few things we can share too.  Anyway, I wanted to know if you’d consider coming, that’s all.”

Connie’s face twitched and she blinked, once.

Great, Lord, I hope she’s not offended.  She might have things going on at her own church.

The corners of Connie’s mouth went down, bounced up.  “When is it?”

“It’s all on this flyer.”  Lindy set her items on the island, pulled a folded paper from the backpack.  “As you can see, all the information is right there.  I hope you can make it.”

Connie studied the flyer, her eyes roaming the document.  “Well, I’ll have to see.  Perhaps Pilar can come in early that day and open the shop for me.”

Lindy grinned, her heart slowing to its normal pace.  Thank You, Lord.

 “May I keep this?” Connie asked.

“Sure.” Connie carefully shelved the paper in a ledger, held out a hand.  “Now, let’s go ring you up.  Ah, I see you’ve found el gallo de bodas, a very good choice.”

Lindy tried to make her lips cooperate.  “El gallo. . .”

El gallo de bodas,” said Connie.  “It means ‘the bossy rooster,’ just like the Cuban children’s story my mother told me many times over.”

Lindy leaned across the counter.  “Never heard it.  How does it go?

Connie pantomimed. “Un gallilito is on his way to a wedding.  When he gets his beak dirty from eating corn he finds in a mud puddle, he demands everyone he passes to clean his beak.  They each in turn refuse to help.  He makes one last plea to el Sol, the sun, up in the sky.  The sun makes those who once refused, to help un gallito.  The happy rooster then proceeds to his uncle’s wedding on time.”

“And I suppose the moral of the story is. . .‘Don’t expect cooperation from the people that you boss around?’”

Connie laughed and took the earrings from Lindy.  “Si—that, and ‘It pays to have friends in high places.’”

While Lindy waited to pay, she peered out the window, up into the cloudless blue sky.

It does pay to have One Friend—she thought–in the Highest Place of all.   

Naomi

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. . . I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” Isaiah 49:15 NAS

Huston County Hospital, fourth floor.  Lindy Mitchell, hands to the thick glass, peered in.

Three rows of bassinets occupied the nursery, each with a pink or blue bundle inside.  Most bundles were content at the moment, their eyes and mouths but little horizontal slits above their blankets.  The few that weren’t, however, had faces scrunched like prunes and open mouths a-quivering.  Thank God for the barrier that blocked out most of the sound.

Her eyes roamed the names till she found the right one.  Little Elijah David Mitchell, there he was, happy in his own space.  She cocked her head.  The baby didn’t look much like John or Chloe at this point.  Maybe a bit like Sommer, but it was hard to tell.

She noted the twenty-pound weight in her chest was back.  She clutched the bouquet in her hand until the stems dug in and the plastic wrap collapsed around it.

It was now or never.  She might as well get it over with.

Again, she wished that Mace could have made the trip too, instead of being called away on a church emergency.  It would’ve been so much easier to bear.

Oh, well—it is what it is, Lindy.  Go congratulate your sister-in-law on delivering a healthy new nephew.  She took a deep breath and walked down a tiled hallway to Room 4512 where Chloe was supposed to be.

She peeked in.  Chloe Mitchell, Lindy’s sister-in-law, sat propped up in bed,  channel-surfing, looking no worse for wear.  In fact, she looked refreshed and rejuvenated, her cheeks pink with health.  Her hair was combed, her make-up freshly applied.  Yep, hand it to Chloe, who tended to make everything—including having a baby—look easy.

Lindy knocked.  “Hey, I hear someone’s had a baby in here.”

“Hey, you.  Get in here, right now.”

Lindy hugged her.  “Mace sends his apologies for not being here today, but you know how the life of a minister goes.  How’re you doing?”

“I’m great.  Don’t know if Mace told you or not, but the delivery was a real blessing, only three hours long.  We barely got to the hospital before Eli was born.”

“Where’s John?”

Chloe patted the bed for her to sit.  “He went home to take a shower and go to work.  Even though he was up most of the night, he insisted that he get in some hours today.”  She shrugged.  “Comes with being the daddy, I guess.”

“Has Sommer seen her little brother yet?”

Chloe threw her head back and laughed.  “No, but she’s chomping at the bit to.  She’s been practicing with diapers on her dolls for weeks.  John said he was going to pick her up after school today to come see the baby.”

Chloe clasped her hands.  “Oh, what beautiful flowers.  Are those for me?”

“I knew you liked lilies.”  Lindy handed her the bouquet.

“You know, I think I saw a vase under the sink.  Would you mind. . . ?”

After she filled the vase with water, Lindy set the flowers within Chloe’s view and sat back down on the bed.

“Have you seen him yet, Lindy?”

“He’s beautiful.  Or should I say handsome?  Wow, I’m gonna have to change my vernacular now;  I’m so used to thinking in terms of a niece, and not a nephew.”

“No, I think you’re exactly right.  He is beautiful. My bouncing baby boy.  I think our little family is complete now—one girl, one boy.  It’s perfect.”

Lindy tried to stifle her thoughts, but they came anyway.  The perfect family of four.   All tied up in a shiny bow and laid right on their doorstep.

A knock came.  “Excuse me, Mrs. Mitchell?  It’s feeding time.”

An African-American nurse, her salt-and-pepper hair smoothed back from her cheery face, pushed a bassinette in.  She picked up the tiny blue bundle and reached past Lindy to hand him over to Chloe.  “He’s a good sleeper and eater, this one.  You got yourself a winner, Mrs. Mitchell.”

Chloe held baby Eli close and kissed his nose.  She unwrapped his blanket and brought him to her breast.  “I hope he continues to do this well at home, Naomi.  How I remember those first sleepless nights with his sister!  Oh, excuse my manners.  Naomi, this is Lindy Mitchell, my sister-in-law.  Lindy, Naomi Kinghorn.”

The powdery baby smell cloyed Lindy’s nose, and she couldn’t swallow past the giant lump that had collected in her throat.  Before she spoke, she had to clear it a couple of times.

“Nice to meet you, Naomi.  Uh, Chlo, I hate to do this—but I’m going to leave, okay?”  She hitched her thumb toward the door.  “I’ve really got to get back.”

“Lindy, you just got here.”  A tiny pink hand shot out from the blanket.  “Can’t you stay longer?  You can hold him a while after I feed him—and I know Sommer would love to see her favorite aunt.”

She shook her head. “I’ve got a deadline hanging over my head, sorry.  Mace and I promise to make it to the house real soon, okay?  Hopefully there won’t be a church emergency to tie him up next time.  I love you, Chlo—bye.”  Lindy touched two fingers to her lips, turned and walked out.

The nurse followed Lindy down the hall, caught up to her.  “Nice, healthy baby boy.  The Mitchells are very blessed,” she said.

“Yes, they are.”

“Did I hear you say your husband’s a minister?”

Lindy turned to the woman and saw a kindly face above the blue scrubs.  What was her name, again?  Her nametag read Naomi Kinghorn, R.N.

“He’s a minister, yes.  At Beal Street Church over in Hope Springs.”

“I know exactly where your church is.  I’ve driven past it several times to teach some of my parenting classes.  It must be nice—” she paused and motioned back—“that you get to live this close to your family.  A baby’s birth is always an extra-special time.”

Lindy stared at the black and white floor tiles.  And a constant reminder of what we don’t have.

“It’s nice when kids in extended family can grow up together, don’t you think?  Cousins get to know their cousins and their aunts and uncles, instead of being spread out over the countryside.”

Lindy stretched her collar, biding her time.  “I suppose so.”

They reached the nursery, and Naomi extended a hand. “It was very nice to meet you, Lindy.  Maybe I’ll drop in, attend a service at Beal Street Church sometime.”

Lindy’s answer popped out like a goody from a vending machine.  “Hope you do, Naomi.  Please come, anytime.  We’d love to have you at Beal Street.”

The woman then did something surprising—she laid her other hand on top of Lindy’s and held it there.  Lindy looked down at the dark-light-dark sandwich, then met Naomi’s gaze.

“Just remember, Lindy Mitchell, Who our God is,” she said softly.  “We know He delights to give His children His very best gifts.  And remember, what the Father ultimately gives us is always better than anything we would’ve picked out on our own.  You’ve got to trust Him.”

Naomi pulled her to the side.  “You don’t have any children, do you?”

Lindy shook her head.

“I watched you earlier, you know, through the glass.  Anyone with eyes in their head can tell you are aching for a child.  Am I right?”

Lindy slumped against the wall.  She squeezed her burning eyes shut.  “Oh, God help me,” she managed to say.  “Am I really that obvious?  I would never in a million years hurt Chloe or John.  I am a horrible, terrible person to feel this way!”

Naomi’s chest rumbled with a chuckle.  “No, you’re just a sinner, saved by grace like the rest of us.  And Mrs. Mitchell didn’t notice it, I can guarantee you.  She’s got too many stars in her eyes right now because of that young ‘un—he’s the only thing she’s seeing.”

“You think so?”  Lindy cracked one eye.

“I know it, trust me.  Haven’t worked this floor for thirty-one years and not learned a thing or two about human nature.”  Naomi held out a finger, swirled it around.  “But you need to talk to the Lord about this, young lady, and I know you know what I mean.”

She was right.  Lindy took a deep breath, released it.  Lord, I am sorry.  I want to wait on You to give us our child, in Your time.  I give it to You.

The weight in her chest left, replaced by a lightness. Thank You, Jesus, she breathed.

Lindy opened her eyes.  She found herself engulfed in a giant bear hug by Naomi who was praising the Lord aloud.  “Thank you, Lord!  You are a great God!  Bless this young couple, Lord.  Give them out of Your incredible bounty and let them know the joy of Your salvation!”

Naomi released her and wiped away a tear.  “I need to get back.  You and the Lord gotta have a serious talk soon, young lady, or this thing is gonna keep eating you alive, dragging you down.  Remember, Lindy Mitchell, to trust God and His promises—you’ll do all right!”

Lindy’s knees were still wobbly when she reached her car in the garage.  She stopped to marvel how quickly she had responded to the woman’s huge faith and good advice.  Whatever had just happened, it was big.

She found she couldn’t wait to get home and tell Mace.

           

Thoughts on Father’s Day

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man

who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew

and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.”  Matthew 7:24-25

 

This Sunday we celebrate Father’s Day, a time when our thoughts focus on our fathers, still living or gone on ahead.

I am thankful for my own daddy who came to know Christ while I was still a child; who saw the necessity to bring me up in church amongst my fellow believers; who has lived out before me a physical example of how to grow in God’s grace.  He has been a wonderful provider, an active participant in his children’s and grandchildren’s lives, and a ready help to others whenever needed. My father has served through various capacities in the many churches he and my mother have attended through the years. He steadfastly carries on,  in spite of formidable health issues that swirl about him, and does so with the same German precision and good humor that God’s always blessed him with.  He is a wonderful picture of what an earthly father should be.

The other father in my life is my husband, Al.  He is a minister of the gospel, so not only is he a believer in Christ but a “professional Christian” by trade.  God, in His unfathomable inscrutability has given us—like so many of you—many unanticipated bumps along the way.   The rain has fallen, the floods have threatened, the winds have lashed.  Despite brief moments of sheer terror when it looked like all might be lost, God preserved the house.  Our Heavenly Father graciously replaced the siding that was stripped, the windows that were shattered, the shingles that were lost.

Never once did the foundation of the house quiver.  When your life is built upon Jesus and His Word, it will stand the tests of life.  The house that God built still stands, still serves, still joyfully proclaims the good news of Jesus, because my husband long ago built his house on the Rock. Thank you, Al, for being the man of God that you are.

May I end with a prayer?  Our Heavenly Father, thank you for our daddies.  Whatever their influence may be, the good and the bad, we can thank You for them.  You assigned each one specifically to us in Your wisdom.  They are flesh-and-blood lessons to us of what You, a perfect Heavenly Father is—by their legacies of obedience or disobedience to You.  May we see You more clearly through the light of their lives, or the stark contrast of their dark to Your Light.  And may You receive the glory in all these things, Lord—because we come in Jesus’ name only.  Amen.

Lookin’ up,

Sislyn/Romans 15:5-6