Rachel set aside the coffee and opted to chew on the small red straw she’d used to stir with. Women of various ages were walking back and forth down rows of folding chairs. Coats, books, and purses were strewn about to hold a person’s seat. She wondered how many of them realized the importance of tonight.
It seemed tonight Rachel was in the right place at the right time. Not only would she get to hear an icon of women’s business speak, but that same woman wanted to sit down and chat with her after the program. Carol had no way of knowing that Rachel was a business woman and that she had come only to hear Carol speak.
The room held nearly fifteen tables, given Rachel’s best guess. Then each table had two to six women. Most of the women looked like they were Rachel’s age possibly a bit younger. The people her mom’s age were the minority this weekend. More than likely those younger women were all there for the same reason Rachel was.
A woman in crisp black slacks and lavender top stepped up to the microphone on the small platform in one corner of the room.
“Could I have everyone’s attention please?” The buzzing chatter lessened but it took the woman saying it a second time before the room got totally quiet.
She went through the regular greetings and welcomes then introduced the speakers. According to what the woman said there was one woman before Carol then a few announcements after Carol.
“But first ladies let’s stand up and praise the Lord for bringing us here tonight.” The women stood up and began applauding. Rachel looked around and she clapped.
Someone grabbed her shoulders from behind and Rachel spun around.
“Mind if I sit with you?” Rachel’s mom smiled and pointed to the chair Carol had been in.
“Go ahead. You scared the living daylights out of me.”
“Sorry.” She smiled as she passed then turned to face the stage and clapped with everyone else until the room got quiet again.
The announcer continued. “We’re going to open with a word of prayer then move right into praise and worship. If you look in our conference folders you’ll see the words to the songs and we’ll also have them up here on the overhead projector. Let’s prepare to enter worship.”
She stepped away and a woman with brown hair, blue jeans and a black sequin top stepped forward. In a booming voice she said, “You ready to praise Jesus?”
The room erupted in applause, whistles and women screaming yes. It was more like being at a college football game than a church conference. Rachel moved her lips to the first song and cut out for a bathroom break during the second. The third song was slowly playing and women were swaying to the rhythm when she got back. The lead vocalist was humming and periodically saying “Thank you Jesus” while the three men who made up the musical accompaniment and back-up singers continued softly.
Rachel wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. Her mom had her hands folded with a Mona Lisa smile on her upturned face. She gently swayed from side to side oblivious to anyone around her.
Rachel fidgeted with her hands and finally crossed her arms and closed her eyes so no one would notice how bored she was. She opened her eyes up after a few moments and glanced down at the lyrics in her folder. This was the last song and it seemed to be that they were going to hold the last note until every woman in the room was in a hypnotic trance. Shouldn’t be too long, only Rachel and two other women didn’t appear to feel the compulsion to sway.
The music ended and the first speaker stood. The woman talked about church and life as a mother of three preschoolers. Rachel drew pictures of trees and a dog that ended up looking more like a pumpkin while the woman spoke.
“And now ladies join with me in introducing Mrs. Carol Adnaw.” The MC stepped back and clapped. Carol approached the lectern and smiled, nodding her head in recognition of the applause. Rachel slapped her hands over and over in the first genuine enthusiasm since the program began.
“Everyone please sit down.” Carol paused and women sat down and scooted chairs on the hard floor. “Thank you so much for having me here.” She smiled and opened a portfolio pad. “My topic for tonight is minding our business.”
Rachel wrote the title on the first page of the tablet she had brought for notes.
Carol continued, “First Thessalonians four verse eleven and twelve in the Amplified Bible says ‘Make it your ambition and definitely endeavor to live quietly and peacefully, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you, so that you may bear yourselves becomingly and be correct and honorable and command the respect of the outside world, being dependent on nobody [self-supporting] and having need of nothing.’ Ladies how many of you are commanding the respect from the outside world?”
Rachel commanded respect in her field. There were many who sought her for advice. She scanned the room and didn’t see a single hand go up so she left hers down as well.
Carol leaned forward, “Then ladies, you are disobeying God.”
Rachel noted a few nervous laughs and the shuffling of a few bottoms in their seats.
“Paul wrote this letter to the people of Thessalonica and told them that the way the world would respect us would be honorable, live quietly and peacefully and living without lack.”
Carol scanned the room. Rachel often tried not to be overly ambitious. To Rachel lack of ambition was laziness, not some great virtue.
Carol smiled and flipped the pages in her Bible. She stepped away and walked from one side of the stage to the other, a distance of a little over eight feet Rachel was guessing, with her floppy Bible laying open. “God’s word also tells us that God is able to make all grace (every favor and earthly blessing) come to you in abundance, so that you may always and under all circumstances and whatever the need be self-sufficient [possessing enough to require no aid or support and furnished in abundance for every good work and charitable donation].”
Rachel noted Carol’s emphasis on the word abundance. This time about half the room clapped.
“I’m not here tonight to debate whether poverty is a virtue or a curse. I am also not here to debate rich men going through needles and poor people being more spiritual. I am here to talk to you tonight about minding our business. That business is being a representation of Christ to a dying world that needs desperately to feel his love.”
The room erupted in applause and cheers with about twelve women standing by Rachel’s count. Maybe one or two more. She shuffled a little in her chair. She hoped Carol wasn’t upset to have so few respond to her.
Carol walked back to the lectern and set her Bible down. “Ladies, for a long time I was caught between two worlds. I grew up in church with a mom and dad who were good people that took me to Sunday morning service most Sunday mornings. My parents were comfortable, but not rich, when I was a child. My first memories of church were good ones. We learned about Jesus and his miracles, the parables and the Beatitudes. Then later we learned about Daniel and the three boys in the fiery furnace. It was like bedtime stories every week. They were beautiful tales of wonderful characters but they had very little to do with my everyday life.”
Rachel’s childhood flashed through her mind. Her life had been so much like Carol’s. The hair on her arms stood up as if they too understood what a great woman Carol was.
Carol continued. “I do remember the church I grew up in told me that if I aspired for worldly success I was sinning. ‘Pride commeth before the fall.’ I was told whenever I revealed my desire to be a famous person. So I learned to keep my dreams out of church and to give the right answers to my teachers’ questions.”
“As I moved into high school my dreams were firmly in place. I knew that Business was the best route to live the affluent lifestyle I craved. I had been taught by society that if I believed in God I was naïve and brainwashed. Since the world was going to give me the future I wanted, rather than the life of lack championed by my Sunday school teacher, I decided that maybe I had outgrown going to church.” Rachel leaned back and folded her arms. Hopefully her mom was paying attention. Maybe now she’d understand why Rachel didn’t need the church and its rules.
“My parents accepted my decision and ended up joining me at home on Sunday mornings. We decided the time together was more important than going to a church building. After all, God has a piece of himself in each one of us so a group of three was just as much church as a group of three hundred.”
“When I moved on to college I pursued my interests and sought to prove to everyone that I had it in me to be famous. I sought to please no one but myself and did what it took to graduate summa cum laude from the business school at my university. When I graduated I stepped immediately in to a job with a six figure salary and every material thing I had thought I wanted. Money was not an issue.” She stopped and focused on a woman on the front row. “But it was an empty and lonely life. After eight years of it I was more depressed and surrounded by more stuff then I ever thought I wanted. Worse still, no one was interested in my pain. What does a rich young woman have to be sad about?”
Plenty. The roses, each one, surged in to Rachel’s mind. Typical church stuff, bashing people who tried to be and do something bigger. Carol droned on about some of her problems but Rachel saw only the roses and the heartbreak of Nate’s betrayal. She looked around at this group of women all pretending their life was in order. She knew none of them were as together as they put on. All of them hid secrets. Rachel wasn’t a hypocrite. She lived her life in the open and celebrated the beauty of life without judgment.
Carol lifted the floppy red Bible up over her head and waved it from side to side. “And I read it.” She lowered the Bible on to the lectern. “It said God made me with passions and desires to be used to serve him. He gifted me in marketing. I didn’t need to feel guilt over my success, but neither should I have self-centered pride.”
Carol leaned on her elbows and put her fingers to her lips as if deep in thought. “When I began to work my business as if God owned it, God honored my hard work and rewarded me financially but the difference is now I also honor him in the way I do my work. I pursue honesty, integrity and I always give back.”
“This weekend is my tithe. I go out five to seven weekends a year and speak at women’s conferences, large and small, at no charge. I honor God with my time and he has rewarded me with joy, peace and even productivity.”
“I want to be remembered for more than a woman who had lots of stuff. It is more than being remembered by man. For me life is about being known by God.” People started standing and clapping. Some even screamed in agreement. Rachel sat there and scribbled doodles on the page. She’d find out the real information when Carol was done with her joy-fest.
“Many people think Christianity is only about what happens after you die but I think the world is more focused on death and the after-life than most believers. God is about the here and now. He talks about money more than prayer. God instructs us to love and to forgive. Those are contemporary messages. There is no need of forgiveness in heaven because there will be no sin. God is interested in the here and now. By contrast many people who don’t follow God worry about their legacy or what will be in their obituary. What will people say about them when they are gone.”
Carol pointed to her chest. “I’m not worried about what people will think of me when I’m gone. I’m worried about how well I am reflecting Christ here on this earth.”
The entire room stood in thunderous applause. Rachel stood and looked around. She had written down a few questions to ask Carol when the two of them got together this evening.
Carol put one hand up and the room quieted down. “I feel impressed to pray over business women right now. Any of you who own, plan on owning, or would like to own a business please come forward. A few women filed to the front.
Rachel’s mom nudged her, “Go on up.”
“It’s for Christians and I’m not one.”
“It’s for business women.” Her mom pointed. She had a smile on her lips but her eyes were stern. Rachel relented and walked to the front with the other women. The lights were hot around her and she focused on the podium. Everyone had to know who she was, Lisa’s daughter, and those who didn’t would know before she left. Carol looked down the row at Rachel and smiled. Rachel broke her gaze quickly and focused on the spot where the podium hit the stage.
One by one Carol put her hands on the women’s shoulders and prayed with them. Beads of sweat formed under Rachel’s top and slid down her shirt. Carol moved down and then stopped in front of Rachel, looking straight into her eyes.
“Hello my new friend.” Carol had tenderness, not hard-nosed business sense, in her eyes.
“Hi.” Was all Rachel could muster.
“God is going to deliver you. He is always by your side and if you will trust him he will make a way where there seems to be no way.”
Rachel’s breath caught in her throat. Her body was filled with tingly sensations that defied description. Carol turned her face upward and prayed out loud but Rachel didn’t hear any of the words. She was overwhelmed with images. The men she’d slept with, the day she opened the office with Shannon, the day Nate left. Then the roses. She stifled a whimper but in the next instant she felt as if her body were draining of tension and stress. An empty calm started at the top of her head and spread to her toes.
The rose was without thorns. She wasn’t afraid of them any longer. She closed her eye and remembered each flower she had found and where she found it. The image was still there but the fear, anger and panic was gone. She turned her face upward. Her body felt as if the sun had peeked out from behind a cloud and was warming them. The searing heat of stage lights was gone and now a gentle warmth enveloped her.
Someone came and touched her shoulders. Rachel opened her eyes and looked to find the whole front empty except for her. Heat burned her cheeks but so did the sense that she wasn’t going to die. She turned and looked directly at her mom. Another hole pierced the armor around her heart.
You are reading A Face in the Shadow by Tiffany Colter.
Tiffany is a writer, speaker and writing career coach. She is a frequent contributor to print and online publications in addition to her regular marketing blog at http://www.writingcareercoach.com/
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This story is copyright Tiffany Colter. 2007. It may not be copied, distributed, sold or included in any larger work without the expressed written permission of Tiffany Colter.
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