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

Cameron

wallcoo.net


“Cameron”

“Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matt. 19:14

 

Back turned, Lindy Mitchell thumbed through preschool Sunday School papers and felt a little body whoosh mightily past her skirt. Who was that, going ninety miles an hour, inside the classroom?

Lindy could only gape as the collision happened, helpless to intervene. Cameron Goodwin, a first-time visitor at Beal Street Church, crashed headlong into little Anna Cheek, sending the smaller child to the floor with a resounding thud.

Tears filled Anna’s brown eyes, a howl started on her lips. Lindy sighed and shot a prayer upward:  Lord, could You help us out here?

Cameron, a larger-than-his-age munchkin with blond hair and cornflower blue eyes, never glanced back. Oblivious, he continued on his sortie, causing other children within his flight path to duck and begin protests of their own.

All the children had been loud and busy in Sunday School that morning. But their extra-active visitor had injected his own special dynamic into the mix, quickly creating an every-child-for-himself vibe that Lindy was finding hard to derail. Only minutes earlier, she’d ended a noisy fight between Cameron and Bobby over possession of a Tonka dump truck. As a concession, she’d handed over the airplane for Cameron to play with instead.

But first things first, she told herself.  Lindy grasped Cameron’s hand and led him to the sniffling Anna, now being comforted by Danielle Newcomb, a teen helper recruited to help in the Beal Street Church threes-and-fours.

“Cameron, did you know you pushed Anna down?”

A silent shake of the head.

“But you did. You ran into Anna when you went by with the airplane.” Lindy let that sink in. “She’s crying. Do you think she’s hurt?”

Face scrunched down into his chest, the boy nodded “yes.”

“What is it we say when we do something we don’t mean to, especially if someone gets hurt?” Lindy coaxed.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“I want you to say ‘I’m sorry, Anna.’ Look her in the eye when you say it.”

He did so. After Anna verbally forgave him, the boy quickly spun off to play where the cardboard building blocks were shelved, pulling several into the floor.

Lindy’s heart followed him. Lord, help me to understand Cameron—he’s one of Your children too. Show me how to make him feel truly welcome in our class.

Lindy stood up, looked to Danielle. “Danielle, would you mind taking the kids on a walk down the hall? Cameron will be my special helper and help me get our art project ready.”

Lindy clasped the boy’s hand in hers, after reassuring Anna once more that yes, she was truly all right, and the other children that a linked-hands foray down the hall with Danielle would be a great adventure.

Then she sat Cameron down at the low crafts table where they could be at eye level together.  The boy’s attention darted to the open door where the others had gone, his lower lip jutted out, his arms crossed.

Okay, Lord, anytime now, she breathed. Lindy slid a box with assorted art materials in front of the boy. “Cameron, before the other kids get back, would you pull out the stuff for our butterflies?”

Cameron relaxed a bit. “I can help, Teacher. Let me help.” Chubby hands dove into the box.

Lindy pointed. “Find the paper butterflies in the box. That’s right.” She held up seven fingers. “I need seven. Can you count to seven?”

“Sure, teacher. I can count that many.” As eager hands pulled out the supplies, he counted them aloud. “One, two, three. . .” until he had all seven pre-cut butterflies lying on the table.

“Great, Cameron,” she said, meaning it. “Now, can you help me with glue sticks? I need—” she held up seven fingers again, “guess how many?”

“Seven!” he said with enthusiasm and started to gather them.

Smart boy, Lindy assessed. She watched a wrinkle of concentration crease his forehead as he counted aloud. The child was bigger than normal for his age, no doubt about it. And perhaps there were no older brothers or sisters at home for him to play with—home socialization sometimes made all the difference in a child’s interaction with others. Note to self: Chat with Cameron’s mom, Rachel, and get to know the Goodwin family better.

Lindy poked her head into the hall. No kids. Lindy came back to the table and held up a pair of the bright yellow butterfly wings.

“Okay, buddy, wanna help me make a butterfly? That way you can show all the other kids how to do it.”

He nodded. The cherubic face shone. “I like flutter-by’s,” he said. “They’re pretty.”

“I do, too,” she said, ruffling his silky hair.

She showed him how to select glittery snippets of colored paper from a plastic baggie and then glue them down in a pattern onto the yellow wings of the butterfly. “You work on that, okay? I’ll finish the antennae that go on the butterfly heads,” Lindy said, grabbing a package of colored pipe cleaners.

Cameron’s forehead creased as before. Clumsy fingers tried their best to pick up edges of the small pieces of paper, but with no success. To his credit, the child kept on trying. His fine motor skills weren’t on par with his verbal and counting abilities, but that wasn’t too unusual for a four-year-old.

And there was her answer, right in front of her—Cameron’s body was simply growing too fast for him to have good control over it!

“Here, Cameron,” she said, uncapping a glue stick. “I’ve got an easy way of doing it.” She turned the glue sticky-end-down and nabbed a piece off the table. She held it up to show him, then eased it onto the butterfly’s wing with her finger. “See, it’s easy when you know how.”

“I can do that!” he yelled, and proceeded to stab a small snippet. He used his pointer finger to rearrange the bit down onto the butterfly. A big smile crossed his face. “I did it, Teacher. I did it!”

“Yes, you did,” Lindy said, smiling herself. “Good job, bud.”

Tilting his blond head, he asked, “What’s your name, Teacher? I forgot.”

“My name is Ms. Lindy.”

“Miz Lindy. Miz Lindy. Miz Lindy,” he repeated and stabbed piece after piece of colored paper.

After church, when Rachel Goodwin came to pick up her son, Cameron proudly showed her his butterfly with the mosaic wings. “Me and—“ he stopped to glance at Lindy, “Miz Lindy got the glue sticks out of the box, and I glued these here pieces of paper to the flutter-by. And that’s how we did it, Mommy.”

“He helped the other children make theirs, too,” Lindy added, touching his shoulder. “Cameron’s a great assistant.”

“It’s very pretty, Cam,” his mom said, taking his things. Another parent slipped in. “Let’s go, honey,” she said, “so Ms. Lindy can let the other children go home with their mommies and daddies.”

They had only taken a few steps when Cameron turned, flew back to Lindy, flung his arms around her skirt. He squeezed tight a moment, then ran back to his mom’s outstretched hand. “Bye, Miz Lindy. See you later.” His crinkled blue-eyed grin, framed by the doorway, exactly mirrored his mother’s own. Thank you, Rachel mouthed to Lindy before they disappeared.

No, thank You, Lord, Lindy telegraphed heavenward, as she turned to greet the others.