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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Sunday School (10/25/07)

TITLE: Cactus and Lilies
By Jan Ackerson
10/31/07
~1st Place


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I’m prickly. I make no apologies; after all, God created cactus as well as lilies, didn’t He?

I’m happiest when alone with my books and Miss Sadie, who in the contrary way of her feline ilk chooses to find me charming and irresistible. We are fine companions, Miss Sadie and Yvonne.

Despite my thistly demeanor, I nurture a great love for my church and for its people. Only let them keep their distance, please; I make select friendships on my own terms.

For twenty-two years—ever since I graduated from college—I’ve worked in the church offices. My official title is Administrative Assistant, but ask any of the pastoral staff there, and they’ll tell you the truth: I run that place. The pay isn’t much, but my needs are few. One hardcover book each week. Fresh tuna for Miss Sadie. Warm socks. With those I have learned, like Paul, to be content.

I was in my office a few weeks ago when I read through the names of the proposed adult Sunday School classes for the upcoming quarter. A twinge of irritation flitted across my brow; as usual, there were no classes that appealed to me.

There were classes for married couples, single parents, widows and widowers, young men, young parents, empty nesters, college students, working mothers, newlyweds, and senior citizens. There was a class for people who wanted to determine their personality types, and one for those wishing to do an in-depth study of the genealogies in Numbers. There was even a class for women who wanted to knit booties for preemies. How precious—but I don’t do precious, thank you.

I sighed. Perhaps, just maybe, some small part of me longed for fellowship with people who were…well, like me.

For the briefest moment, I contemplated hiding in the nursery during the Sunday School hour. This notion quickly fled at the mental image of me, holding a squalling infant at arm’s length, my face crinkled with disgust.

Frustrated, I considered spending that time in the church kitchen, helping to prepare coffee for the post-worship fellowship. That wouldn’t do; domesticity and women’s chatter bore me and frankly, I make lousy coffee. At any rate, the problem remained—how to find a class of like-minded people, fellow misfits.

It wasn’t until later that evening, while Miss Sadie purred and kneaded my thigh, that the solution occurred to me. A quick phone call to Pastor Jacoby and his hearty “Of course!” and I went about inventing a Sunday School class that would, I was sure, draw a number of people-defying-categorization.

I added Peculiar People to the list of classes, along with a brief description. An e-mail to the maintenance staff secured classroom B, a smallish room with space for a dozen chairs and an electric teapot.

On Sunday morning, I arrived at 9:45, started the hot water, and wrote a thought-provoking quote on the white board. I looked at my watch…9:52…no Peculiar People yet.

At 10:05, a fellow poked his head into the doorway. I recognized him as one of the maintenance workers and forced a smile. “The room is lovely, thanks,” I managed. He looked around, started to speak, but must have had second thoughts. My throat thickened with disappointment and an unfamiliar sensation: loneliness. No one was going to come.

Ten minutes later, Maintenance Guy appeared at the door again. His name tag told me that his name was Kevin. I didn’t even attempt a smile this time. “You can take the chairs away, Kevin. This class was an unfortunate idea.” I sipped from my cup of Earl Grey.

“Yeah, it might’ve been.” Kevin stepped into the room and glanced at the pale liquid in my cup. “Maybe you’d get a few members if you weren’t threatening to poison them. What’s this, dishwater?”

“I—I…” I had met my match—someone with more thorns than I.

Kevin read my quote and squinted a bit, his head tilted. “‘Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.’ Martin Luther, huh? Wish I’d had ol’ Marty around to kick my…to help me a year ago.” He flicked off the teapot. “Next week, I’ll bring decent coffee and some doughnuts. Why don’t you put that in the bulletin—you’re the secretary, right?”

“I’m the Admin--” I stopped. For some reason, I didn’t want Kevin to think of me as…bristly. I took another sip of tea, and Lord help me—I think I may have batted my eyelashes.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Sheri Gordon11/01/07
This is cute. Your story makes a good point -- there are so many Sunday school classes, with so many names/interests; and still many people don't find a place to "fit in". Nice take on the topic.
LauraLee Shaw11/02/07
I love this story--from title to end. Great points made but a fun read at the same time.
Therese Witkus11/03/07
Great story and well written for taking points to heart.
Lynda Schultz 11/03/07
I love the story. Really good characterization. As one who wishes the church would be more united and less divided, even when it comes down to Sunday School, I laughed at your descriptions. As one who doesn't "fit", I understood the problem. Good job.
Donna New11/03/07
That was adorable. There are a lot of people who need your Sunday School class. Very cute!
Sandra Petersen 11/04/07
All the way through, I kept wondering if Yvonne was purposely crotchety to avoid the pain of being rejected by others. Kind of like "Reject them first before they get a chance to hurt you." There are far too many people like that, too.

You painted this characterization with your normal expertise, and I liked the ending very much. Offered hope.
Joy Faire Stewart11/04/07
I enjoyed the MC's sassy attitude and her pal, Miss Sadie. And I love the humor in the last paragraph.
Betty Castleberry11/04/07
This is delightful. Your MC really came alive. I *love* the last line, and chuckled out loud.
Kristen Hester11/04/07
Is love brewing in the air between Kevin and Yvonne? Will there be a chapter 2? This was wonderful. I enjoyed every word. Great job.
Verna Cole Mitchell 11/04/07
I enjoyed your feisty MC and was hoping she's "attract" someone to match her in attitude.
Sharlyn Guthrie11/04/07
Excellent characterization. I think Yvonne was once our church secretary, er, uh, administrative assistant. : )
Karen Wilber 11/04/07
I love the tempo in the first few paragraphs. The sentences aren't short, but they are clipped and it really makes her voice come alive. She's prickly, but I like her.
LaNaye Perkins11/04/07
I feel as though I would have fit right in with this class. Great writing!
Peter Stone11/05/07
I love this article. God did indeed make all types of people, and all are needed and have their place in the church. Thanks for reminding us of this! Being a cat fan, my favorite line was 'and Miss Sadie, who in the contrary way of her feline ilk chooses to find me charming and irresistible'.
Laury Hubrich 11/05/07
Thanks for a good Monday morning laugh! This entry was so good. I know a few Sadie's also. Keep on cranking out great stuff!
Laury
Joanne Sher 11/05/07
Clever and delightful. I also adore the last line. You did a wonderful job with putting us in your MC's mind (and mindset!). Loved it.
terri tiffany11/05/07
Great writing! Loved the title so I read on and was very surprised at the voice and how it led me through a delightful tale!! thanks for a good read:))
Beth LaBuff 11/05/07
Love it! Yes, you were outside the box. :) I laughed when I read this, "an in-depth study of the genealogies in Numbers". If that was ever offered at our Sunday School I'd sign up for it. :) :)
Sara Harricharan 11/06/07
Very nice. I'm glad there was a place after all, even if she had to make one to find someone she could relate to. Good job. ^_^
Leigh MacKelvey11/06/07
As usual, your entires are just a "notch above" with creative idea, characterization that is believable and always enjoyable! I keep telling you this!!
Christine Dunn11/06/07
Very funny - Sign me up for that Numbers Geneaology class now! I felt like I really knew this character, as you really brought her to life.
william price11/06/07
Top notch. Acutally made me smile at the end, which must be rare because it shocked me. I appreciate attention to characterization and this was great, in fact beyond. I truly enjoyed this entry. God bless.
Patty Wysong11/07/07
I love your voice! It's delightful and there's a lesson and a nugget wrapped in there--excellent! That last line is fabulous! :-) Hugs!
Brenda Welc11/07/07
One of my favorites so far. I loved your character. I loved the flow. I loved the imagery. Very well done. Keep up the great writing!
Loren T. Lowery11/07/07
Prickly indeed, but with a tender heart. You framed it all beautifully with great characterization and dialogue that brought everyone to life. I esp. liked the last line...too cute!
Sheri Gordon11/08/07
Congratulations on your much deserved 1st place. I love the quirkiness of the secretary -- I mean administrative assistant. :) Another excellent entry from you. Way to go.
Therese Witkus11/08/07
Congratulations on the 1st Place EC! Well deserved and touching off anticipation for future great reads.
Anothervoice Sunstar11/08/07
Congratulations. Beautiful job. Thanks for always making helpful comments on my pieces.
Laury Hubrich 11/09/07
Congratulations, Jan! I knew this was a winner the first time I read it! Woo hoo!!!
Laury
Patricia Todd11/09/07
Congratulations! Great article.
Anne Linington11/10/07
One of my favourite poems by William Cowper is The Nightingale and Glow-worm which again show that we should respect our innate differences and each glorify God in our own way.Excellent job, but where are the lilies?
Crista Darr11/14/07
Oh Jan, how fun. I got a good chuckle out of your last line. I'm so glad I stopped by for your merry-hearted medicine. Love, Crista
David Campbell11/26/07
Jan,
I read this at a time when I have felt out of place. But as I read your story. I find a peace with the way God has made me. At times a cactus and at times a lilly. Thank you for your story