I'm trying to stay off the computer so I can at least make a pretense of keeping up with the schedule for reading the entire Bible in 90 days. Recently Mary Beth posted on that blog about the phrase "gathered unto his people" (referring to what happened at death). Lutheran Chik's comment to Mary Beth's post was also interesting. Read them here.
A wiser saint than I recently commented to me that people remember the emotional experiences of church, the relationships and the connections with both God and people, more than they will ever remember the content of a class or a sermon. Thinking of that, and then reading the Torah as well as my fellow-readers comments has me pondering about who my "fathers"--and mothers too--might be.
Who will I join when my time on earth is ended? Who will be awaiting my arrival with joy and anticipation? Perhaps it is a silly exercise to think of this, since Heaven will doubtless be something quite different than anything I can contemplate. Nonetheless, if love is eternal someone is waiting for me. And some people are still on this earth who have no idea they had an impact on my life, but someday they will.
Speaking of eternity, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,
Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. There are three things that will endure--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:12-14 (New Living Translation
I've started compiling a list of those fathers and mothers, and sisters and brothers too...people who have been part of my "spiritual formation" as Lutheran Chik phrased it. This is a very incomplete list, but I've started because I want to remember and I want to thank God for them, and the faithfulness of God in my life.
1. My mother
She was the first to tell me about Jesus and to give me a sense of God's love for me. She is about to celebrate her 89th birthday, but one day if things follow the usual course she will be on the other side waiting for me. I still vividly recall the sunshine coming through the window, the hard feel of the floor beneath my knees, the texture of our old couch on my cheek, and the sound of my mother's voice as she led me in prayer when I, at age four, asked Jesus to "come into my heart."
2. My dad
A lifelong Southern Baptist deacon, he gave me a sense of humor, a love for the Bible, for church, and for study. He was a wonderful teacher of the Word. And he loved his daughters.
My relationship with both of my parents had some significant struggles and flaws and I can't say our interactions were always healthy or encouraging. But that does not change the fact that I will eagerly await to be "gathered" to them. My dad has been gone for some years, and I miss him. And I suspect that, viewing things from the "other side," he might have decided that maybe Pentecostal women preachers are not necessarily heretics after all. ;-)
3. Mary Newbill
She was my Sunday School teacher in my preschool and early elementary years. Mary was a tall, thin, plain woman. But I can still see her loving expression. She looked at a cross-eyed, shy, pigeon toed little girl and saw a heart for God. She was the first to teach me (even though I did not know this at the time) to look for the holy potential in people. I still have a card that she mailed to me when I was five.
4. My sisters, Darlaine and Paulette
I can't write about Darlaine, the eldest of three girls, without crying. Darlaine was my second mother. Our own mother was mostly unavailable. Teenaged Darlaine usually shared a bedroom with her little sister (me) and I have many memories of late-night conversations in our old double bed, giggling, "drawing pictures" on each other's backs, reading with a flashlight under the covers, praying. Darlaine read to me, listened to music with me, and played dolls with me when I'm sure she would have preferred other activities. She loved me unconditionally. I am like her in many ways. She is the only person who always understood my explanations for things and who never had to ask me to define any word I used. We used to do the "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power" quizzes in Reader's Digest together, and she gave me my love for books and for reading and for...for WORDS. I can still see her at about age 15 with her "nose buried in a book." That is my mother's phrase.
Darlaine was brilliant and kind and compassionate and funny. My heart breaks for her because she has Alzheimers. She is too young for this.
Here we are, not too long ago.
Our middle sister, Paulette, is the outgoing one of us three. She loved to laugh, to "cut up" and to act. She taught me, in a way, about justice. When I was little I had some significant physical problems. I can still see Paulette flying out of our back door, yelling at the top of her voice at the neighborhood kids. She would watch us play from the kitchen window, and she would see things I never did. She still tells me about the time we kids were playing hide-and-seek and one of the boys stood behind a sapling, hanging out on both sides, plain to see for anyone who had good eyesight. But invisible to me. The other kids watched and snickered as I looked for Eddie unsuccessfully. Paulette would take all she could take, and then she would chase them away and bring me indoors and play "house" or "nurse" or some other make believe game with me. This is something she has confessed she hated to do, but she did it because she loved me. There is a bit of Paulette in me, the champion of the underdog, when I get riled about injustice. Which I frequently do. I'm like Darlaine in some ways and like Paulette in others. Those two sisters of mine are opposites, but I (the youngest child) am a mix. Thank you for loving me, dear ones.
If you have ever listened to Bill Cosby's routine "To Russell, My Brother Whom I Slept With" you know how hilarious sharing space with a sibling can be. The three of us sisters once laughed till we cried listening to that routine together.
5. Mrs. Newman
She was my third grade teacher, pretty, silver-haired, another lover of words. She wore classy suits and pinned a big rose corsage to her lapel. I do not know if she was a Christian or not, but God used her in my life. She taught our class about poetry. One of the poems I wrote won an award and was published in "The Bard" magazine. (Ever heard of that one?) She told me that I was a smart girl. Really? No one else had said such a thing. That was an amazing discovery for me. Part of my spiritual formation? Oh yes. There were so many circumstances in my life that the enemy of my soul could use to defeat and destroy me. But God, in goodness and mercy, sent people to affirm that I was a person of worth and value. A very godly concept indeed.
6. Mrs. LaBarre
The third teacher I am mentioning---teachers, take note--you folks can sure be significant! Mrs. LaBarre was my favorite high school teacher. I attended a good Baptist high school. I am thankful for many things about that school.
It is embarrassing to recall, but in those days I tended to think that Baptists would be the big majority in Heaven. Mrs. LaBarre was a Lutheran. And she was a wonderful Christian woman. I spent some time pondering this startling fact. (Please, forgive me!) And one day she wept as she scolded some of my classmates for the shameful way they had treated our Spanish teacher, a young Mexican American who happened to be Roman Catholic. These were the "popular girls." I was not in that group, and on this day I was glad, as I had not participated in their rude behavior. I can hear Mrs. LaBarre's voice raised in dismay as she wiped her eyes and said, "You girls should be ashamed. Is this how you treat another human being? And a sister in Christ? Oh, you think that's not possible? You think you are better than she is because she is Catholic? She resembles Jesus Christ a great deal more than you girls do at this moment!" Wow!
7. Brother Polk
Do Southern Baptists still call all the men, especially pastors or deacons, "Brother ___________" ? Well, Brother Polk was my pastor. He was a handsome Billy Graham look-alike, a wonderful preacher who was also a man of grace and kindness. He spoke to me with utmost respect when I "walked the aisle" to tell him I wanted to cement my earlier decision to follow Jesus by being baptized. He prayed with me. He baptized me (aged six), in the big baptismal tank at First Baptist. He also shook my hand every Sunday, right along with my dad, and he said, "Good morning, Dorcas Ann! Good to have you in church today!" He looked at me as if he actually saw me. He did this for every child at First Baptist. I never forgot that, and today I try to be like him in looking at children and actually seeing them, listening to children and actually hearing them. I am angry at the Southern Baptist Convention these days, and I left my Baptist beginnings behind about 30 years ago (though I value my heritage and a part of me will always remain). But when I am tempted to judge or to stereotype I remember dear Brother Polk. I am sure he would not approve of some of the things I believe these days. But he modeled the character of Christ and he taught with authority, and he walked in integrity and love. I will rejoice when I see him again.
I have to stop now. I had no intention of writing so much. Perhaps there will be a part two one of these days.
Praise you, God and Father, for these blessings of people!