I hated church when I was a kid. I knew without a doubt that when I grew up I would NEVER go to church because I hated everything about it. Except my grandmother.
“When I grow up I will wear a dress like this and I will be this beautiful, and I will never, ever, ever go to boring church again.”
I loved my grandmother beyond measure. She was small and round and soft – I was taller than her by the 5th grade or so, but she still let me sit on her lap. Church meant hearing “Mother” (for that’s what we all called her – kids and grandkids alike) sing in her off-key voice, and smelling her sachet (Avon’s Rapture) and looking through her purse. There was a coin purse, Juicy Fruit gum, a gold-colored compact with a tiny bit of pressed powder and a ratty pouf, and her wallet holding a few dollars in cash, her drivers license, and pictures of her children and grandchildren. I looked through them every week one by one, turning the small cellophane-enclosed photographs until I got to the one with my Aunt Martha on her wedding day. I saved this for last because I looked at it the longest. She was so amazingly beautiful. The picture was black and white but I knew her hair was auburn, her eyes were blue, and her lips 1940s red. She was the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. My grandmother had made her wedding dress – a flounce of white lace with a lovely veil.
“My grandmother had made her wedding dress – a flounce of white lace with a lovely veil.”
As the service progressed, my grandfather preaching on and on and on, I remember thinking “When I grow up I will wear a dress like this and I will be this beautiful, and I will never, ever, ever go to boring church again.” And I didn’t – not for a long time. Until I was called back. The voice of God has called me from time to time as loudly as he called Samuel. Perhaps you know the story – the boy Samuel heard the voice of God once, and then twice, not knowing what he was hearing. When at last he heard the voice the third time, he realized that it was indeed the voice of God and he said; “Here I am Lord – speak, for your servant is listening.” And God told him of his plans to do something so amazing that it would make the ears of everyone who heard it “tingle”. You do not have to be in church to hear the voice of God. You can hear it anywhere, anytime. Sometimes you are hiding yourself from God, doing your best to avoid a trip to Ninevah or the proctologist’s office when God calls you and tells you exactly what is going on that you should be listening to. Sometimes we listen and sometimes we don’t.
“Here I am Lord – speak, for your servant is listening.”
Yesterday I took my grandchildren home after a weekend with me. They were a little hyped-up – maybe the overabundance of sugar they had in my care was part of it, but I’m not quite ready to confess to that. At one point as we were sitting in the living room, my five-year old grandson James threw a spiral-bound notebook into the living room. His mother made him apologize and he muttered “sorreee” in that way that only little boys can and stomped off to his room. His mother and little sister and I continued our conversation. A few minutes later James appeared again, bearing a piece of notebook paper for each of us. Here is the one he gave me: When I asked him what it said, he replied “YOU read it”. So I did. I read, making up the words as I went:
I’m sorry I threw my notebook. I love you better than donuts (the highest compliment to be paid in our family, sometimes shortened to LYBTD). I will never move away to Australia without telling you so you can go with me.
James nodded sagely as I read, as if that were EXACTLY what he had written. When I got ready to leave he hugged my neck so tightly that the tears were squeezed out. At least I think that is why the tears were coming. I realized something. Perhaps I had known exactly what it was that James wanted to say, even if he couldn’t write it yet. Perhaps sometimes we also know exactly what it is that God wants of us even when we are too afraid to say it out loud for fear that people will think we are cracked, purporting to know the mind of God. Today is Ash Wednesday. That’s the day that follows Fat Tuesday or “Pancake Day” as it has become known in many congregations. It is the beginning of the season of Lent; the time when we give up something that will help us become closer to God. Or add something that helps us become closer to God. Or listen to something that helps us become closer to God.