Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Let This Be My Best Day...." I've skipped across three denominations (so far) on my PresbyBaptiCostal journey through this upside-down kingdom, each one has brought new beauty, insights, "food and drink" into my soul.
One of my favorite surprises about being a Presbyterian was how much I grew to enjoy the congregational prayers we would pray together in unison--there's something rich and ancient-yet-timeless about the sound of hundreds of people...young and old...male and and poor...praying the same words to the same Father.
The prayer on this photo, which was cut out and saved many years's now taped to my desk. (In this new and challenging job, where that day's "demons" typically hurdle at me before I've sucked down nearly enough coffee, I need its reminders of WHO I'm praying to, HOW I'm to view ALL THINGS, and the fragile nature of life on this side of "the veil." I'm not sure whether Pastor John or someone else wrote it, but...after all these years...its words still touch the eternal in me.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

So..."tongues" have "died"?

So...of course, writing about Brother Thompson the other day made me think about his beautiful wife, Sister Thompson. When I was a little girl, I didn't know what to call the kind of beauty she had. These days, I would say she was elegant and grace-filled. Every now and then, she would sing a solo in church. When she sang "The Love of God," at some point during the song, it was like she became so moved by this Love that human language was simply not enough, and she would begin singing in tongues.

Photo by our friend, Marlon Rampy;
words are possible because of Becca :).
Now...before you just dismiss this thing called "tongues," let me share a story with you.

A few years ago, for months, I had hovered very close to a place I can only call despair. A beloved friend had left in a way that seemed to take a large part of my soul with her. For months, I had prayed and cried, begging God to help me move on from this ever-present sadness and depression. felt like my prayers made it no "higher" than the living room ceiling. Going to church was, be honest...a burden--I just sat there and cried at the first few words of a song...which just led to worrying about what people around me thought.

Then, one Sunday morning, as I was getting ready for church, I prayed this prayer at my bathroom sink, "Jesus, you've got to help me today. I need to know that you see me, that you care about what I'm going through."

Well...that balcony seat in that Baptist church was taken; so, I had to sit in a different section. ( should keep in mind that, these days, I go to a Baptist church--it becomes significant a little later in this story.) When it came time to "shake hands and greet those around you," I noticed I didn't know a soul around me. But, I put on a smile, shook hands, and greeted away.

That morning, Brother Doug's sermon was about living as a follower of Christ when life has pulled the rug out from under you. Needless to say, I was a puffy-eyed, snotty-nosed mess by the time of the altar call--had even considered getting up and leaving, but didn't want to embarrass honey (any more than my snuffling already had.). Then, Brother Doug asked for everyone who felt like they needed prayer to come to the altar. But...I didn't...just couldn't.

(I feel I should remind you at this point that I was sitting on a Baptist church pew where I normally didn't sit...and had never met the couple sitting behind me.) I sat there weeping...the man behind me leaned over, placed his hand on my shoulder...and began PRAYING IN TONGUES for me.

Me...who had grown up listening to my Sister Thompson sing about "The Love of God" in some heavenly tongue...and hearing others pray in tongues my whole life! And...remember my "blackmailish" prayer earlier that morning--"Jesus, you've got to help me today. I need to know that you see me, that you care about what I'm going through."

And He did. He orchestrated that entire Sunday morning...for me. On a Baptist church pew, I sat there and wept some more, and drank in that beautiful "other" language interceding for me. And I was taken back to the song my beautiful Sister Thompson used to end up singing in an "other" language:

"The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

....*Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky."

Well...of course...after the service ended, I HAD to tell this man whose name I didn't even know the part he had played in Jesus answering my desperate, early-morning prayer. And, just like God, my sharing helped him--who said he often wondered why God had him--him, who has this "thing" called "the gift of tongues"--at a church which believes that, of all the gifts, that gift alone has "died."

I'm just grateful it hasn't.

After that Sunday morning, as I continued healing and moving on from my brokenheartedness, I would remember that "other" language prayer...and KNOW that Jesus does see me...does care about what I'm going through...for then...for now...for always.

If there's one thing I'm learning, it's that, while I may try to fit God into a tidy little box, He just flat out refuses to stay there.
I love the LORD, because he heard my voice 
and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.…
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
our God is merciful….
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living….
What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation 
and call on the name of the LORD….
O LORD, I am your servant;…
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the LORD.
(from Psalm 116, ESV)

(*FYI, a footnote on the Hymnal page for "The Love of God" reads: "The words of the last verse of this song were found penciled on the wall of a narrow room of an asylum by a man said to have been demented. The profound lines were discovered after his death.")

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Mess of Greens....

It seems fittin’ to begin this new “page” of my writing journey by introducing you to the pastor who set the bar so high. To all my pastors since him, “I’m sorry I’ve been so hard on you. Maybe once you 'meet' him, you’ll understand.” (By the way, if any of you Kimberly folks have a picture of him...PLEASE send me a copy.)

Summer always brings memories…the parades and crafts and pledges and prayers and songs of weeks spent in various-and-sundry Vacation Bible Schools…the peddler with his fresh vegetables and swinging scale and frozen Goo-Goos in a cooler of ice…trips to the ice house in Warrior…working in the garden with daddy. (Well, truth be told, daddy did most of the work—with hoe in hand and that ever-present Salem precariously dangling at the corner of his mouth—how he balanced it AND whistled remains one of the mysteries of life.)

One particular day…two of those summer constants—daddy’s garden and Vacation Bible School—came together to teach me a lesson about just how easy it is bless someone down to the marrow of their bones.

You see, when it comes to my church journey, those sweet years are filed away in my heart as “The Brother and Sister Thompson Years” at Kimberly Church of God.

I loved Brother Thompson...and Sister Thompson too, of course. But I   L.O.V.E.D.  Brother Thompson! (Was there anyone who didn’t?)

Truth be told, I don’t remember a single word from a single sermon he preached. What I DO remember is that those sermons were delivered with a passion his pulpit could not contain. Most often, he would take a microphone out of its stand and come down off that stage on floor-level with the rest of his little flock. He kept a handkerchief in one hand and would stop every now and then to wipe the sweat from his brow created by his deep emotions and passionate delivery. Brother Thompson had this beautiful, honey-coated voice…that would become wrung out with what I’ve come to realize was LOVE. (How funny—I remember all that…but none of his pulpit words.)

The words I do remember were ones he spoke to me one morning on the way to Kimberly Church of God Vacation Bible School. You see, during Vacation Bible School, Brother Thompson also drove the “converted” ramshackle school bus our church owned. He’d drive all across Kimberly and even into parts of Morris picking up children so they could heed our evangelistic parade appeal to “Come to Vacation Bible School!

Me and my brother waited for the VBS bus in front of our house, where Stouts Road begins to curve to the right at Reno Street—not exactly the safest place for children to wait for a bus…but…I digress.

One particular VBS morning, I was the proud owner of a paper bag filled with a mess of turnip greens from daddy’s garden. Mama and I had been promising Brother Thompson we would bring him some, since they were known to be one of his favorites. (We promised...Daddy picked.)

As I stood there on the side of Stouts Road, I could hardly wait to give MY Brother Thompson that bag of greens…which—as I said before—I had NOTHING to do with growing or picking.

When that bus stopped, grinding out of gear, and Brother Thompson pulled that door lever open…I marched up those stairs and…with a toothless grin so big it made my pigtails hurt…I handed him that paper bag, announcing, “These are for you.”

And…his response was the only reward I needed. He kept that bus stopped…right there in the middle of that Stouts Road curve...pulled me into his arms, gave me a hug…started crying, and pronounced the most beautiful pastoral blessing I've ever received, "Brother Thompson loves you."

And THOSE are the words I remember.

For the rest of his days at Kimberly, whenever the occasion arose, he’d tell people about the morning he was driving the VBS bus…and saw this pig-tailed, snaggle-toothed-smiling girl holding a paper bag filled with turnip greens.

You’d of thought that bag was filled with money, instead of a mess of greens. But I guess there are some things worth more than money.

That bag of greens still teaches me to this day—that even the smallest gesture (which we sometimes have very little to do with) can bless a heart.

Eventually, Brother and Sister Thompson went on to other churches in Alabama. But…not before they left an eternal mark on Kimberly, Alabama. Our dear Rudy Sandlin, who died a few months ago, once said about Brother Thompson, “If he can’t get you to Jesus any other way, he will just love you to Jesus.”

“Love you to Jesus…” What a legacy!
"Let me give you a new command:
Love one another.
In the same way I loved you
(said shortly after He had washed their road-dirty feet),
you love one another.
This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
(John 13:34-35)
"Oh, Abba, when words fail, help me to just love them to Jesus."