Just to give you some of my background, I grew up in a house void of faith. Churches were for weddings, funerals, baptisms and the occasional Christmas Eve service. I loved the stained glass, the “church clothes” (mine and everyone else’s), and the coffee hour or reception afterward but was confused by the (what I thought were) lengthy sermons, sitting and standing every few minutes, and the multitude of books to reference in the (rock hard) pews. But most of all I was confused about the HALF NAKED man, hanging on a cross! No one thought this was strange?! I knew nothing of the trinity and certainly knew nothing of what the blood on that cross meant. And, I didn’t learn for many more years to come.
My first glimpse of faith didn’t come until I was a preteen. I used to spend six weeks of my summer with my Mom in the Midwest. One year she was living with my great-grandmother at the time. This woman intimidated me and intrigued me in equal measures. She lived on an old farm complete with winding dirt driveway, several dilapidated outbuildings, a dozen or so barn cats and a box of a house added onto over the years to accommodate more children and the modern convenience of indoor plumbing. It smelled of the farm animals and since my great-grandmother wasn’t especially domestic, it sometimes looked like they may have bedded down there on occasion as well. Okay, that last may have been a slight exaggeration.
My great-grandmother was a reflection of the farm itself. Old, sturdy and well-built. They both unashamedly screamed honesty and hard work from the chipping of the floor boards, to the bare light bulbs with strings in the upstairs “bedrooms”. They were a haven for anyone who needed somewhere to go. And many wayward family members found refuge under the sagging roof over the years. As far as I know, she welcomed them all, loved them all, and forgave them anything. That being said, she was also blunt, sarcastic, and loud. Not accustomed to her brand of “realness”, I was more than a little afraid of her. But like the several dozen June bugs that made their way in through baseball sized holes in her screens, I was drawn to her just the same.
That summer, I also learned that she was a woman of great faith. She loved God, His church, and her “stories” i.e., “The Young And The Restless”. In that order. It was hard to keep track of her. Although she seemed to like such advances as plumbing, the telephone was not her favorite. After all, it was on the wall, on a cord and she was even worse with phone etiquette than she was in person. If she answered the phone, the conversations were brief, and when she was through talking she often just hung up. So, if you wanted to visit, you took your chances with the winding driveway, parked by the shed, and looked for her little blue car. If it was there, you got out and listened. If you heard “singing” you had only to follow the noise to the massive garden, or to the kitchen. (If you heard nothing, she was sleeping on the couch after watching her soaps.) Now, I use the term singing pretty loosely here. She was not blessed with a singing voice. Really. It was awful. But this did not deter her from singing her favorite hymns, terribly off key, sometimes at the top of her lungs. Someone once told me that when confronted with her less than stellar singing voice she replied, “If He didn’t want to hear me worship, He’d have made me mute! “. Since this sounds like something she’d say, I tend to believe it. She was almost always barefoot with dirty feet (whether in the kitchen or garden), decked out in rollers, and wearing a tattered apron that served a plethora of purposes. If she was out, she was caring for kids, helping families with laundry, with her “church ladies”, visiting people in the hospital, or delivering pie. I would have considered a hospital stay for the strawberry rhubarb.
I observed over six weeks that her faith followed her from garden, to kitchen, to church bazaar, to anywhere someone needed her. I learned that though rough around the edges, she radiated peace and love in a way that was hard for me to understand at that age. I recognized it, but could not understand how someone with such a barren looking life in the way of material things could seem so content and giving with everything she had. How someone who had seen so much and endured such hardship could not only weather those storms, but come out on the other side so….well, happy! I could go into all sorts of family stories but frankly, they would probably make your toes curl and I don’t want to be responsible for any nightmares. Suffice it to say, this lady was tough, and happy, and peaceful, and content in a way I had never seen before in people who had plenty of money, possessions, power and prestige. This little spit fire with the dirty bare feet, ratty apron, crazy curlers, belting out songs of worship while she toiled had more than anyone else I knew. And whatever it was, I wanted it! Okay, since I was just a preteen at the time I wanted it for a few weeks and then forgot about it until I saw the next pair of shoes I wanted. BUT, 20 plus years later, during my first bible study I made a timeline of my “faith journey”, and the first stop in my journey? It was on an old farm, with a firecracker of an old woman who practically oozed Christ’s love. And as I worked my way through the book of James and both my heart and mind simultaneously understood James 2:18 and it spilled into my life, I knew my first victory!
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
I could almost hear her screeching rendition of “How Great Thou Art”, taste the strawberry rhubarb pie and smell the cow manure! Not bad for a first glimpse.