Dear, Dear Ones, I hope you’ve had such a blessed Lord’s Day. I have had the kind you hope for all week long. One that started way before I meant it to because I had a birddog home from the lease still on hunting time that thought she needed to check the backyard for wild game at 5:30 AM. I was so annoyed. I tried to go back to sleep but I so dearly love the morning before the sun – or anyone else in my house – rises. I just couldn’t resist it. I slipped out of a very cozy bed, turned on the coffee pot, made a fire, got my Bible and my Breaking Free workbook and headed to Keith’s leather chair, the place closest to the fireplace. I had time enough to do two whole lessons (no small feat, considering the author is very wordy and we must have looked up somewhere between twenty and thirty passages. For the love). Then I had my prayer time and told Jesus what was on my mind.
I thought Keith was going to sleep the day away so I finally awakened him at 9:00 AM and asked him if he wanted to go to church with Melissa and I. (He goes when he wants. I gave up trying to make him. If I pressured him to go when he didn’t want to, he did lots of huffing and puffing and squirming and sighing during the service and I’d start feeling responsible for the whole thing and begin having psychosomatic symptoms – panting, lip-chewing, coughing, itching, nervous giggling – doubling the distraction for those sitting unfortunately close. Keith also has trouble keeping his thoughts to himself in church. A fact considerably complicated by his increasing volume. He’s shot so many guns in his ears he’s a tad hard of hearing so he doesn’t realize how loud he’s talking sometimes. But only at church, come to think of it. I need to meditate on that later. Therefore, if he wasn’t happy with something – like the length of the service and how long the line was going to be at lunch – our entire section could well know about it. Hence, I no longer pressure him. Haven’t for a good long time. Don’t have to much anymore, anyway, because he’s pretty taken with our pastor. Which means he comes to church now a couple of times a month – Keith, not Pastor – which makes me a very happy girl. When he doesn’t, sometimes I guilt-trip him but I always wait until after I get home from the service. That way he doesn’t decide to go but in a huff.
Keith wasn’t in a Sunbeam Sunday School class as a small child like I was where the Scripture we most often chanted was, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” Keith is not that glad. Says God isn’t just in a house. He’s also out in the wild. You can debate that one with him till the cows come home but all he’s going to hear is a gosh-awful mess of mooing. All said, if attending is his idea, we have a much more cheerful experience.) So, perhaps now you’ll understand how happy I was this morning when Keith said he wanted to join us.
Especially considering we were doing something different today, which he’d of been less likely to do. Melissa called me last night and asked if I wanted to go with her to a church she’s passed many times in her neck of the woods. She said, “I have a feeling it’s such a good church and I’ve been telling myself I was going to visit before I moved. My time’s running out. Wanna go?” And I did! So, after enjoying a leisurely morning of John Martinez coffee and Jimmy Dean Sausage with toast (50% less fat sausage and whole grain toast. I’m a health conscious woman), we headed out the door to fetch our baby daughter who will be married and move off a month from Wednesday. I was filled with inexpressible joy, feeling like the most blessed woman in the world. It was a gorgeous, cool and DRY Sunday morning in Houston, Texas, my husband was going to church, and, frankly, I was having a terrific hair day.
When we drove up, Melissa was standing in the parking lot, smiling from ear to ear, with a blouse and jumper on, tights, and black shoes. Her eyes sparkled in the morning sunshine like dewy blades of greenest grass. She looked about ten. Till you saw that Greek New Testament clutched in her right hand. The three of us headed in no time over to BridgePoint Bible Church and actually got to park up close in the “Visitors” section. Were we ever elated! The church was beautiful – modern architecture – and looked almost brand new. People were smiling, chattering, and either making their way into the sanctuary or out of the sanctuary, depending on whether they were in the first service or second. I was delighted to see everything from children (who departed at the end of worship for their own service) to senior adults in the service we were attending.
The worship service seemed to be a blend of contemporary and traditional. It began with a modern version of “Victory in Jesus” which made it a sure pleaser to both kinds of worshippers. The familiarity exuded a deep, almost palpable sense of happiness in my soul. I took a deep breath of the Spirit and sensed Him invite me to make myself at home there this morning. The congregation was so dear. Similar to mine in a lot of ways. Very warm and very worshipful but not overtly demonstrative. (Myself, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool hand-lifter and I certainly feel some freedom of expression at my church and felt that freedom this morning at theirs BUT I also believe in not being a distraction if that’s not necessarily the norm around you. I can dance my heart out before the Lord in my den or on the back porch all I want. I’ve learned along the way that we don’t have to save all of our worship for Sunday morning.)
Then I saw the sweetest moment between a senior adult couple sitting two rows in front of us. It almost put me over the edge. The woman – so gorgeous and so radiant in the Spirit – was familiar to me from Bible study years ago. I’m supposing her husband had battled health problems because he appeared very physically weak, though clearly joyful. Someone told Melissa that they’d been married for sixty years. He sat during praise and worship as she stood beside him, often lifting her delicate right hand before the Lord Jesus from an obvious overflow of love. At one point as the worship leader led us in the stone-melting song “Amazing Love,” the praise was so moving that the man, bent with age and confined to the chair by weakness, lifted both his hands. Just seconds later, his beautiful wife, standing closely to his right, slipped her left hand under his elbow to support what was very likely the sweetest, purest act of worship I may have ever seen. I could not keep from crying.
By this time, the entire congregation was ready for the Word and that is precisely what we got. The senior pastor, Tom Douthit, opened up 1 Corinthians 5 with us and taught us with love, compassion, and well-prepared-for precision, “How To Handle a Scandal.” Utterly fantastic. During the sermon is when Melissa and I almost forgot we were visitors. She and I kinda “do church” like our African American brothers and sisters do at my beloved Franklin Avenue Baptist in New Orleans. When someone’s preachin’ it up, we like to “talk back.” The good kind. Like “OK, now. That’s good. Yep. That’s good. That’s it now. Uh-HUH. Oh, yeah.” I’d go so far as to throw my shoe if I’d be sure someone would give it back. After all, I love my shoes. I nearly had myself worked into a Word-frenzy by the closing prayer. Keith was very quiet for a change. I couldn’t tell how he was taking all of it. Didn’t even hold my hand like he usually does. (And, oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you earlier that he usually not only talks loud during the church service. He also feels compelled to PDA. Light obviously. It somehow brings out the affectionate side of him and he likes to hug me a lot. Go figure.) At the very end of the service, he simply leaned over to me, took my pen out of my hand, and wrote on my program, A+. Yes, indeed.
It was a wonderful morning followed by a wonderful lunch, a nap, time with a novel on the porch, then a sweet – if lop-sided – conversation with you. My beloved Siestas. On the Lord’s Day. I want to close with words to a hymn we also sang this morning in the service. A song I had not sung in corporate worship in a while and the lyrics were so tender and dear to my heart that I fought back the tears the whole time. My memory swung back like a pendulum to my childhood as I could picture my family of eight sprawled down the pew. My grandmother was down to my left, just like usual, and in my memory, I could hear her singing, voice quavering with a mixture of emotion and age. We’d sung “How Firm a Foundation” often in that red-brick church nestled in the Ouachita Hills of Arkansas. As I sung them this side of an adult lifetime of God’s faithfulness, I was nearly overcome with emotion. That buck-tooth little girl with the battered and bruised heart – already long-since abused and deeply confused – had no idea how the words of that hymn would spring to life for her. I share them with you now, not because of what they mean to me but what they may mean to you. Today. Right now. Amid whatever you’re going through. Read every line. Ponder the truth of it. The hope of it. The promise of it. If you know the tune, sing it. Say it, if you don’t. Cry it, if you must.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
The last stanza nearly put me over the edge:
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
(John Keith, 1787; Public Domain)