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Living in the Pink
by Sharon Tubbs

Moody Publishers

 

...They’re just like you, going through the same things you’ve been facing and standing at the same crossroads where you’ve gotten stuck. As for me, I’ve been there, too, which is one reason I believe God taps me to talk to them, to tell them what I know because of what I’ve been through.

Now, it is not my practice to tell other people’s business, so please understand that this little collection of stories was not my idea. See, I know people are thinking, There she goes again, constantly lurking around the church. You never know when she’s coming but she seems to know everything about everybody.

Regardless of how it came to be, it is what it is, and as long as it’s the truth I won’t complain. God will make some good out of it.
 

 

 
He’ll make it personal for you. That’s why those questions at the end of each story are important. Meditate on them. Discuss them with a group or your girlfriends.

I’m not foolish enough to think that you all will agree with the outcome of everybody’s story. Truth be told, neither do I. Wouldn’t it be nice if the lives of people around us turned out just how we thought they should? And if, in the end, everyone made the right choices, so we could feel a warm tingle in our hearts and believe that all is right with this world?

If that were the case, though, we would never be living in the pink, now would we? You’ll see what I mean.

THE CHOIR’S soft melody filled the sanctuary and set the atmosphere for worship. All over the church, heads bowed, eyes closed.

Bodies swayed side-to-side in time with the music. Laura Pinkston stood in the balcony, watchful and careful not to be lulled into the moment. God had given her an assignment that required she stay alert and ready to intervene in somebody’s life at precisely the right
moment.

Better known as Miss Pinky to children and Sister Pinky to anybody grown enough to pay rent, she had counseled, steered, and supported more women than the human mind could tally. But no matter how many the Lord led her to, there would always be someone new, or someone old with a new situation. You’d expect as much in a world this big where everybody is connected in one way or another, even if you have to go all the way back to the Garden.

On this particular Sunday, however, Sister Pinky needed to go no farther than the seat to her left. There sat Camille Peters with her eyes shut tight as if in some sort of meditation. In truth, her thoughts had drifted away from worship to the salacious details of the prior evening. Her lips curved into a smile, the kind of grin that comes after a woman has indulged in rich chocolate cake or a fullbody massage or, in Camille’s case, a man like Blackwell Spencer.

She had started on the road to such gratification a few months before when Camille’s friends talked her into a girls’ night out at Club Monet: “Get a life,” Trisha had said. “You’re too young to sit at home every weekend.”

Less than twenty-four hours later, Camille donned black slacks, a fitted periwinkle blouse and black shoe boots with a fourinch heel, enough to put her well above five-foot-ten. She had gone to the beauty shop that morning, perhaps too much effort for a dive where wide-hipped women roll themselves against men in spandex muscle shirts.

After a group dance with the girls and an hour with her back literally against the wall, Camille turned to leave when she saw him approaching. “Him” being the guy she had observed for weeks on the sly at Believers Ministries International Church. That she had noticed him at all among more than five thousand members said a lot. There, ushers guided latecomers to tiers in the balcony, and the person sitting beside you on any given Sunday could be a complete stranger. Even so, he must have noticed Camille, too.

“Don’t you go to Believers Ministries?”

Being coy, she replied, “Is that where I know you from?”

The two introduced themselves and he pointed to a table nearby where they could sit down. They screamed to hear each other above the din of dance music, and she managed to find out that he was thirty-one and an accountant. Blackwell learned that at age thirty-three, Camille aspired to become a fashion designer in New York someday. In the meantime, she worked as a buyer for a boutique here in Tampa, her hometown.

He called the next day, and in the weeks that followed he took her to fine restaurants, the movies, to stage plays at the performing arts center. They didn’t kiss for almost a month—Camille wanting to present herself as a real lady.

The pace gradually sped up. They sat together one Sunday at church, considered to be the public seal of a serious relationship.

And last night, they climbed to even higher ground. Camille grilled some steaks, made mashed potatoes and her specially seasoned green beans with homemade bacon bits. After dinner, they created their own dance floor and slow-rocked to a CD of Luther Vandross’s greatest hits. Midway through one of Luther’s low notes, passion lured them first to the couch, then to bed.

“Oh, Lord,” Camille now said aloud.

“It’s all right, baby. You want a tissue?”

Finally, she opened her eyes. The choir was singing a different song now: “Order my steps in your word, dear Lo-OORD . . . ”

And the woman next to her held out Kleenex.

“Do you want a tissue?” the woman repeated, her eyes fixed on Camille’s. “I have more in my purse. You sounded like the Spirit had grabbed hold to you.”

“No thank you,” Camille said, looking for a way to disguise her true thoughts. “God is good, isn’t he?”

The woman nodded. “All the time,” she said, “all the time.”

Sister Pinky put the tissues back into her purse and settled in her seat to hear the day’s sermon. Camille didn’t know Pinky, but Pinky knew her. She noticed when Camille first joined the church and observed how Miss Peters sashayed through the doors with her matching shoes and purse, looking straight ahead. She would find her seat, at which time she surveyed the sanctuary to see who came to church and what they were wearing. Pinky observed it all, including the day Camille and Blackwell sat side-by-side.

“Jesus, help ’em,” Pinky had whispered.

Camille plus Blackwell equaled a dangerous combination, at least righteously speaking. They both hovered around the same spiritual level, the one where you can make it to the church singles meeting to mingle and eat finger sandwiches, but not to the prayer group onWednesday nights. They were “living in the pink,” as Pinky liked to say. And though the phrase she coined sounded like her nickname, it wasn’t about her.

People who live in the pink are stuck between what the Bible calls a scarlet stain of sin and striving to become pure or “white as snow.” They say they believe in God, but only enough to call themselves “spiritual” without having to make significant changes in their lives. Don’t be fooled, Pinky would say, they might go to church and say eloquent prayers or sport a Jesus bumper sticker—all while nursing sins that they’re unwilling or afraid to let go. They want to believe in God, just not too much.

Something about Camille’s diva-like stride and the way Blackwell nuzzled against her clued Pinky to their pinkish state. And this morning Camille obviously had her mind on something other than the Lord. The look on her face betrayed too much natural satisfaction to be holy. Pinky asked if she needed tissue just to bring her back to reality. “God sure is good,” Pinky mumbled to herself.

On a regular Sunday, Pinky would sit on the east side, third row from the front. She occasionally wore a broad-brim hat over her short gray-tinged hair and carried a hanky to wipe sweat droplets from her caramel face during praise and worship time. She didn’t let people walk by without giving them a hug and a “How you doing today?” A retired teacher, she was known for knowing God’s word, like last year when she spoke at the annual Women’s Day breakfast. Her message, titled “Tell the Devil to go to Hell,” came straight from the book of Revelation. And every woman, from the twenty-somethings to the saints in high hats, stood to her feet by the end. “That woman sure did preach,” a few said afterward, confirming the obvious to no one in particular.

Some kept their distance, especially when they wanted to talk about the bishop’s wife, or the worship leader, or Sister Gaines’s drug addict son. “I don’t listen to mess,” Pinky told the last woman who tried to engage her in he-said she-said. She propped reading glasses so low on her nose that people wondered whether she really needed them at all—she didn’t when it came to spotting the Devil’s wrong, that’s for sure. Most often, her glare settled on the women at Believers Ministries or one of its branch churches. Her influence over the years had transcended the church property and even Tampa, Florida, where Pinky had moved with her daughters after living the pink life herself.

These days, she would get to know single mothers and find out whether they struggled to pay their bills. If so, she’d help them get assistance through the church benevolence fund. She refereed catfights between so-called sisters in Christ and watched for those who were overly ambitious, weary, or lonely. She mentored mothers in raising their children to revere God and encouraged women to own up to their mistakes because no earthly consequence was worth eternity in hell. She helped others wise up, especially when it came to men. Pinky knew who was dating whom and who wanted to date whom.

Which is the very reason she sat in the balcony today.

At the end of service, Pinky faced Camille. “I’ve noticed you here for some time now,” she told her.

“Really?” Camille said, beginning to recognize the woman’s face. “I arrived a little late to the Women’s Day breakfast but remember hearing part of your ‘Tell the Devil to go to hell’ message. I bought the CD.”

“Everybody remembers that one, but I wish I had titled it differently. People got so wrapped up in the ‘hell,’ they forgot the glory.”

Pinky’s first instinct urged her to schedule what she called a “sister intervention” where she and Camille would meet over lunch or dinner, the idea being to talk on a personal level. But just as she opened her mouth to invite Camille over, Pinky’s inner voice whispered: “Wrong time.” If she knew anything, she knew she’d better wait on God’s cue, so she started talking about the church’s singles ministry instead. She introduced Camille to a few members who had gathered after service.

Once the sanctuary cleared, Pinky spread her arms for a hug.

Camille felt a strange sincerity in the lengthy embrace, like the love she felt when she visited her mother back home in Ohio. Pinky finally released her, and then wrapped both of her hands around one of Camille’s for what Pinky called a love-shake.

“We’ll talk again soon,” she told Camille. “And I mean that. Once I’ve spotted you, I won’t let you go unless the Lord says so.”

Camille watched Pinky walk away. Something about that woman made her feel secure, even if only for the moment. Like a loving mother with wisdom seeping through her pores, one who meant it when she said she would not let Camille go.

A typical Saturday and Camille twisted in the salon chair at Gladys’s House of Style where she had a standing appointment.

Gladys shaped many a hairdo for the metro area’s local news anchors and football players’ wives, yet she knew how to customize Camille’s short cut. Her strong hands massaged mousse into Camille’s freshly-washed hair, then smoothed it flat and shaped it for Camille’s turn under the dryer.

On a typical visit, she and Gladys would gab away, but Camille’s mind was divided this morning as she held a cell phone to her ear. “What did you say?” she asked her mother. How rude to talk on the phone while in Gladys’s chair, but her mother had called for the third time that morning. “Mama, is something wrong?”

“Wrong? Not in my house. I’ve been trying to get in touch with you to find out what’s going on at yours. After all, you never gave me the details of your sexy date with Blackwell last weekend.”

The older Brenda Peters got the more she lived vicariously through Camille. They talked several times a week, Brenda often calling for fashion tips or to get the scoop on Camille’s friends. In Brenda’s mind, intimate details with men weren’t off limits, either, although Camille cut her mother short when Brenda offered a little too much information about a night with her significant other.

In Ohio, Brenda served as treasurer of the usher board for Little Rock Church in Mansfield. The head deacon was “Uncle Fred,” as Camille called her mother’s longtime boyfriend. They both taught Camille Bible stories and made her say grace before meals. Her father had left before Camille could jump rope but came through town once in a while to leave her a twenty-dollar bill to buy herself a pretty dress. One time she bought enough fabric and accessories to create her first “designer” skirt.

Camille kept the cell pressed to her ear while under the hair dryer and, as expected, Brenda veered into her usual rant about Uncle Fred. Rather than pay attention, Camille tuned it all out and triggered memories of her childhood. She remembered going off to bed while Uncle Fred watched TV in the living room then waking up to find him sipping coffee at the kitchen table. She couldn’t remember when she realized he must’ve been sleeping in her mother’s room, but whenever it hit her she certainly didn’t see anything wrong with a man and woman doing what came naturally.

As long as she’d been in church, of course, Camille heard preachers and leaders talk about sex and sin. Yet they seemed to pay it little attention in their own lives. Her mother and Uncle Fred weren’t the only leaders at Little Rock to share a bed. The pastor himself had business to tend to, like the baby he fathered with the head of the church nursery, a woman who strut her swollen belly around the sanctuary without shame. He admitted his transgressions from the pulpit one Sunday, his wife standing staunchly at his side. Two weeks later he was preaching about God’s mercy, the mistress had joined a church across town, and the members were angry—not with the pastor, but at a newspaper reporter who’d stumbled upon the mistress’s claim for child support at the courthouse and wrote a story about it.

Camille heard it all while sitting cross-legged in front of the TV or standing by the kitchen table as Brenda talked to visitors and to friends by phone. She couldn’t have been more than eight or nine when she asked her mother what “sex” meant. Brenda told her it was something that two adults can agree to do together when they love each other.

“Like you and Uncle Fred?”

“Yes, sweetheart, like me and Fred.”

All these years later, Fred still brought his overnight bag to Brenda’s house on Fridays, and Camille had once questioned why they never married.

“We thought about it,” Brenda said, “but we’ve gotten old and set in our ways now. Why bother? Getting married and moving in together would only complicate matters when things are as good as they’re gonna get already.”

But that’s a long way from exciting, which may be the reason Brenda couldn’t stop dipping in Camille’s business a thousand miles away.

“Did you play that Luther CD like I told you?” Camille heard her mother asking with playful wickedness in her voice.

“Yes, Mama, I played the CD, but I’ll have to call you back later,” Camille said, ending the call.

For one, she couldn’t get into specifics in the middle of the beauty shop. Secondly, something about telling the details of lovemaking to the woman you call “Mama” just didn’t feel right. She would keep dodging her mother’s calls for another week or so, hoping that would give Brenda enough time to forget and stop asking about that special night.

Camille went to the singles ministry bowling event, mostly out of obligation. Pinky had taken the time to introduce her to the organizers, Damian and Jacinta, so she didn’t want to seem ungrateful. When she arrived, most of the faces were people she had noticed in church, often praying openly or standing with their arms raised high during worship, as if surrendering to God above.

It didn’t matter who watched or what anyone else around them did.

They were true worshipers whose praise came from the inside, and Camille observed their sincerity from her perch in the balcony, hoping to someday reach that level in her spiritual journey.

Any single person at the church could attend the singles’ outing, but no more than twenty showed up. Didn’t take long to figure out why. Group regulars were serious believers, who would rate perhaps as high as a cream or even off-white on a Pinkymeter.

Damian kicked off the gathering by forming a circle of prayer, right there in the middle of the bowling alley with other bowlers standing back in reverence. Later the group sat around eating pizza and hotdogs when, out of the clear blue heavens, Damian and Jacinta started talking about their recent engagement and how they wouldn’t make love until their wedding night.

“I respect this woman too much to put her in a position that would jeopardize her relationship with God,” he said.

Jacinta leaned her head against his shoulder. “I’m so blessed to be with him,” she told the group. “You know your man’s love is real when he’s willing, not only to protect you from harm, but to guard your relationship with Christ.”

Camille tried to disguise the resounding “puh-lease!” she felt in her heart by maintaining a neutral facial expression. She questioned what compelled them to announce their sex life, or lack thereof, to a roomful of people. But since they brought it up, she asked the one question she couldn’t resist.

“I’m curious, are you both virgins?”

Damian shook his head vigorously. Jacinta laughed. “No, not at all, although we wish we were,” she said. “Our past is just that, the past.We’ve been born again and we want to live as Jesus said so that our new life together glorifies him.”

Uh huh. The vow to celibacy didn’t make much sense to Camille, especially since their sheets were already dirty. But one thing stuck with her after the evening ended—the part when Jacinta talked about Damian guarding her spiritually. The words sounded corny at first, but then Damian put his arm around Jacinta and softly kissed her forehead. Camille sensed in their relationship the same kind of genuineness she had perceived between the other true worshipers she saw in the group.

Camille tilted her head and looked into Blackwell’s eyes.

“What would you say if I wanted to be celibate from now on?”

“What?”

“You heard me, Black. What if I didn’t want us to sleep together anymore?”

Blackwell unhooked the arm that had held Camille close to him and scooted away to get a full view of her face.

“You can’t be serious. We’ve already slept together countless times.”

“I know, but—”

“Are you trying to tell me something?” Blackwell said.

“Yes, I am trying to tell you something but as usual these days, you’re not listening I’m trying to tell you that I’m reclaiming my virginity.”

Blackwell laughed. Obviously Camille had been spending too much time with those religious overkills at church. “I don’t know what your new bowling friends told you, but I’m sorry, that’s one thing you can’t get back.”

Camille went to her weekly beauty shop appointment that next morning, then stopped by Nordstrom’s. She moved from rack to rack, browsing the size 8 pantsuits just to get her mind off of the discussion with Blackwell the night before. The more he laughed, the angrier she became. Be your own woman, he told her. Stop listening to those people in the singles ministry. They’re probably lying anyway, just like all the other church leaders who pretended to be so righteous.

He totally dismissed Damian and Jacinta’s story, which unnerved Camille for reasons she couldn’t totally explain. All she knew for sure was that she was getting more involved in church while he drifted away. He rarely attended services these days and changed the subject whenever she tried to discuss a recent sermon or Bible verse she’d read. He turned down her invitation to the singles event and future meetings. The group just didn’t fit his style.

How, Camille wondered, would she motivate him to take her and his relationship with God seriously?

Hours passed before she checked the time on her cell phone and realized she had less than thirty minutes to get to Pinky’s house. A few days earlier, Pinky had called and invited her to a barbecue. She had been keeping watch over Camille’s involvement with the singles group. Now, the time was right to step in.

Camille used her GPS system to find Pinky’s two-story brick house on the east side of town and pulled into the driveway where she met Brother Willie. From what Camille could tell, he seemed a good match for his wife. She remembered him standing at the main door during church services, shaking hands and ushering people to the sanctuary. Unlike Pinky, he was quiet and had a stately air about him. He offered a simple nod in place of saying hello, like a man who relied on his actions to speak for him. After Camille stepped out of her car, he introduced himself then stepped aside and opened the front door for her.

Prints of serene landscapes on the walls accented the blue-gray couch with huge pillows. Crocheted doilies covered a cherry wood bookshelf and coffee table. Old school gospel wafted from a CD system on a shelf beneath a flat-screen TV that seemed slightly out of place in the otherwise simple and homey surroundings. The music created a soft undertone for conversation.

Pinky handed Camille a plate piled with tossed salad, potato salad, baked beans, and pork ribs slathered in a sweet, tangy barbecue sauce. “I hope you ain’t trying to keep that skinny figure because we like to eat around here.”

“Thank you ma’am,” Camille answered, looking around the room. She expected to see more people from the church, talking and laughing. Yet the only guests appeared to be a few older men who stayed outdoors with Willie. They sat out on the backyard deck telling stories and laughing. Not a single other woman had shown up.

“Is anyone else coming?”

“No, no one else,” Pinky answered. “I invited you over, just to chat.”

Camille wondered what they would chat about. “This certainly is a nice home you have,” she said as a conversation-starter.

But Pinky, who had no heart for small talk, steered the conversation to a personal discussion, asking about Camille’s job and her parents, then about how and when she became a Christian.

Camille seemed unsure about the answer to Pinky’s last question.

“I guess I’ve been a Christian most of my life. My mother raised me in the church, and I remember being baptized when I was a little girl.”

Pinky didn’t say much in response, and Camille grew curious about Pinky’s background. “You seem so happy and confident.

How did you get involved in church?”

“Now there’s a story,” Pinky said with a light slap to her thigh.

You see Willie out there? We’re old, but we’ve only been married five years. He’s my first husband, but not my first man, if you know what I mean. I have two grown daughters.

“I was something else when I was your age. Thought I was Miss It. I would go shopping and get me a new outfit and go to church thinking I looked good. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about being put together. It’s just that, in my case, I thought the outside mattered more than my inside. I showed up every Sunday, but I hadn’t made a commitment to God.”

“Really?” Camille said thinking about the ensemble she’d bought for church.

Pinky nodded. “I didn’t realize it but I was insecure. I thought my hair and clothes were what mattered most. I hardly ever made time to pray, unless something went wrong at work or with my family.

“And you’re going to think this is crazy,” Sister Pinky went on, “but sometimes I visited a different church just to check out the men.”

“What?” Camille said, trying to sound surprised, although she had done the same thing in the past.

“That’s how I met my daughters’ father. He was playing church just like me. Nice looking man with a good job. After six months, we got an apartment together to save money. We always said we’d get married when we got our finances together.We went to church, side-by-side, like we had said wedding vows. A few years passed before we realized we didn’t love each other anymore.

He moved out and started mailing his child support.

“After that, all I wanted was another man. I found another, and another. I made sure anybody I dated went to church, though. I wanted a real Christian man, someone who believed in God, so we could have a nice churchgoing family.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Camille said, thinking about her disappointment in Blackwell’s behavior when it came to church.

“You know what an old wise woman told me one day?” Pinky said. “She looked me in my eyes, like I’m looking at you now, and she said: ‘Baby, you can’t lead a man to God, while you’re sinning and sleeping with him at the same time. If you want a Christian man, first of all you’ve got to be a true Christian woman.’”

“Oh.” Camille felt uneasy.

“That was a long time ago,” Pinky continued. “Eventually, I stopped trying to find a man and started talking to God.As I prayed and meditated on His words in the Bible, I found peace and I dedicated my life to Him,” she said looking up, as if the Lord, Himself, rested on her ceiling. “Eventually,” she said, “Willie found me.”

Camille glanced upward and saw the time on Pinky’s wall clock. It was nearly seven, and she and Blackwell had made plans to spend the evening together. She quickly said her good-byes and rushed to her car. She called Blackwell who luckily was also running late.

Perfect, Camille thought, as she started her car. She forced the conversation with Pinky to the back of her mind and turned on the radio, not wanting to think about God or celibacy or right or wrong.

“Did you bring clothes for church?” Camille asked Blackwell the next morning.

“Nah, I’ve got some work to do,” he told her. “Call me when you get home.”

Not the response she’d hoped for.

In many ways, she had the ingredients of success: a handsome boyfriend, her own fledgling career, and a sense of style.With her hair in place and new white linen pantsuit, she looked impeccable.

Yet, as she walked out the door that morning, somehow she felt undone.

Sister Pinky’s wisdom churned in her mind: “If you want a Christian man, you’ve got to be a Christian woman.” Camille put a copy of Pinky’s message from Women’s Day into the CD player and truly listened for the first time.

“God is not pleased with lukewarm Christians who sin on Saturday and act saved on Sunday. Be either hot or cold, says the Lord,” Pinky said. “He’s waiting on you to let Him fill the emptiness in your life. ‘I stand at the door and knock,’ He says in the book of Revelation. The Devil is a hypocrite. Don’t let him keep you from being the woman God wants you to be, from having all the blessings stored up for you in heaven. Commit your life to Christ and tell the Devil to go to hell!”

Camille walked into the sanctuary, spotted an empty seat next to Sister Pinky and made her way there. The saints were singing and clapping, but Camille couldn’t stop thinking. She felt something, a presence much stronger than she had ever known, rapping on her heart. Should she let it in? In the midst of the music, she lifted her arms high, surrendering herself to God. Her life would have to change, this much she knew.

She tried to wipe away the tears before anyone else could see, but felt a hand softly resting on her back. It was Sister Pinky’s.

“Would you like a tissue, baby?”


BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS
1. How is Camille living in the pink?

2. During most of the story, how does she view her Christian walk?

How might her upbringing have shaped her view?

3. What are your thoughts on intimacy and dating? What strategies can Christian men and women use while dating to get to know each other without compromising their values?

4. What was it about the “true worshipers” she saw at church and Damian and Jacinta that drew Camille’s attention, and why?

5. How does Sister Pinky relate to Camille? What’s the difference between biblical counsel and just meddling in other people’s business?

6. Discuss Titus 2:3–5a, below, with your group. How does the passage relate to Sister Pinky and her relationship with Camille? Do you think that these teachings would be useful in today’s culture? Why or why not?

7. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure.

8. Isaiah 1:18 says: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. What do you think of Sister Pinky’s “living in the pink” philosophy? If you had to put your relationship with God on her color spectrum—from white to crimson—what shade would it be?
 
 


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