Sunday, October 12, 2014

Me and My Drum

It  has been nearly a decade since Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show came into town. They came for a revival service at the First Baptist Church.  Brother Love was an amazing speaker. He had his own brand of hybrid holiness which combined stand up comedy with hell-fire and brimstone.  His wife played the piano and belted out original compositions which could be purchased for a reasonable price in the vestibule.  Visa and Master Card accepted.

By all worldly accounts, the show was a success. Night after night, they filled the pews for an evening  of high church entertainment which had us rolling in the aisles. We weren't rolling with the Spirit; we were rolling with laughter as he pranced back and forth across his stage, perfectly executing one joke after another. His favorite topic was that of the church flowers and the persnickety old ladies who arranged them.

If he thought he wasn't getting quite enough response on another subject, he would trot over to the flowers, pick them up,  and threaten to  move them on us.

Oh how funny he was...

I'm ashamed to say that I laughed right along with everyone else.  The guy was gifted, after all. Besides, I had my own personal pious opinion about the non eternal things in worship, and  I figured he had a point about church flowers being one of them.

So yes, I laughed.

It was in the middle of one such chuckle that my eyes just happened to light on an old woman in the section in front of me.  She wasn't scowling,  but she definitely wasn't laughing either. She was just staring down at her lap.  If I had to give her look a name, I guess I would call it embarrassment.  I might even go so far as to call it shame. As you might have guessed, she was the resident flower lady.

Now, lest you think our flower lady was some  pickle- faced old crone, please think again. Our flower lady was the most unassuming old soul in the church.  If there is such a thing as being quiet to a fault (and I'm pretty sure there isn't), this woman would be that quiet. She had one of those soft, white, faces, the kind that made you want to reach out and touch it to see if it was really as soft as it looked.  Her heart was as soft as her face, too. I never heard of her so much as giving an unkind look to anyone, let alone speaking an unkind word.. As presence goes, she was practically invisible, and all signs pointed to the fact that she liked it that way.

There was just one area where she stepped out, and that was in the area of gardening. The lady was a flower whisperer. Her skill at growing and arranging flowers was legendary in our little town, and aside from her role in the local garden club, she poured every bit of that skill into the flowers of the First Baptist Church.

Week after week, month after month,
 year after year, decade after decade. 

It wasn't until Christmas that I  discovered she was no longer doing the job.  She had exited in her characteristically quiet way at the fall turnover.  I only realized it because the Christmas decorations had a distinctly different flair to them. They had a more designer, Southern Living look than usual, a look that was (dare I say it?) beautifully faux. Their loveliness had been credited in the church bulletin to our new flower committee.

It was just a week later that the local Garden Club held their annual Christmas Tour of Homes.  Our old Flower Lady was involved as usual. When I saw her standing quietly in the corner of one of the homes on tour, I was reminded of  the church and the revival, and I wondered for about the hundredth time if his words had hurt her spirit.

And you know how whenever something pops into my head, it almost always wants to pop out of my mouth? Yeah, well it did that day.   I don't remember exactly what I said, but I walked over to her and told her how much I missed her personal touch with the flowers and decorations at the church.

She looked at me for a few seconds, and then her eyes started to fill with tears.

  Debbie, she said,
 Do you know that you're  the only person who has noticed that
I'm no longer doing something  to which I gave my heart and soul  for over forty years? 

I didn't know what to say.  I just reached out, took her hand, and mumbled something awkward about my being the only one to say it, but most certainly not the only one to notice it.  We had a few more kindred moments before I moved on to tour the home.

She collapsed later that day.

Right there on the tour of homes, she had some sort of a fainting spell and had to be taken to the emergency room. I think the doctor diagnosed her with a terminal case of old age and sent her home to pasture out her days. As far as I can recall, she never made it back to church again. Not long after that, she passed away.

Hardly a Sunday goes by that I don't think of that Flower Lady.  I'll look at the flowers in the sanctuary, ordered from some local florist to the glory of God or in memory of a loved one, and I'll think about how that quiet old woman turned her love for flowers into a gift for the King.

Maybe it didn't matter to Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show. I mean,  Heaven forbid that anyone be distracted from his theatrics by a bunch of silly flowers. Maybe it didn't matter to anyone else in the church, either, and yes, in the whole, eternal scheme of things, maybe it doesn't matter whether we have flowers in a church at all.

But it mattered to her. 

Like the Little Drummer Boy in the Christmas song, she had one gift to bring that was fit to give the King.

pa rumpa pum pum...

Maybe the flowers in the sanctuary don't have an eternal importance to God, but  the people who put them there do.  

I happen to think that God has a particular fondness for all things botanical, too. After all, that  crown of righteousness in scripture isn't a crown of jewels.  It's the stephanos, the crown of victory given to the winners in the ancient Greek games. It's a wreath of leaves.

Of course, when I think about the Flower Lady receiving her stephanos,  I like to think that maybe... just maybe... He crowned her with a wreath of blossoms instead, blossoms collected from decades of her simple gifts to Him. And I like to think that maybe... just maybe... when she finally saw God face to face, He smiled at her and said, " Mary, I like flowers, too."

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, 
but the words of the wise bring healing. 
Proverbs 12:18

So, be careful little tongue what you say...


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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Gurgles and Bloops and Uplifted Roots

We knew there was a problem six months ago. 

Technically, we knew it even before then. Even before the first of the year, we knew there was a problem with the flow around this joint. It didn't come with an unfortunate septic incident or anything. It came with a very quiet gurgling.


I heard it one morning when the Man of the Place was in the shower. Then, I heard it again the next day, and then again a few days later. Because I'm sort of an ostrich when it comes to house gurgles, it took me that long to mention it to him.  Because he's a man and apparently speaks fluent toilet gurgle, he called the plumber that day.  

By the end of that day, we had had a visit from the septic tank guys. Crisis averted.

That's what I thought, anyway. Then, a few months later...


This time the septic doctors pointed the bony finger at an innocent looking crepe myrtle standing too close to the junction box. They kind of pointed the finger at us, too, as if we had planted it there like a couple of morons.

We hadn't.  In fairness, we didn't plant that tree; someone else did.  We're just guilty of leaving it there. Mainly, we left it there out of ignorance. Besides, I liked that tree. It was pretty, and the flowering branches shaded the front porch. I wasn't even willing to let the man of the place trim it back all that regularly. I just let it grow.

All the time that beautiful tree was growing on the top, the roots were growing on the bottom and spreading in the direction of the junction box. Once they got there, they began a slow, invisible strangle.

Wouldn't you think we would have pulled up that tree six months ago? But no, we didn't. We tried some sort of hyperbolic root blasting method instead.  For a while, all was quiet around here, but then...


It was time to surrender.

I watched as Mr. Backhoe Man reached into the ground and ever so easily pulled up what was left of the crepe  myrtle. It took him all of two minutes.

How can something so beautiful on the surface
 have such ugly roots?

I dunno. It just can. 

A little tangle of roots can cause an awful  lot of collateral damage, too. 

I stood outside that day and looked from the roots to the ditch, and the ditch to the roots, and suddenly,  I *got* it.   I got it so clearly that I looked up at the sky and gave God the look.

You know the one, the one that says,

You see, I've been dealing with some serious flow problems around here of another sort, too, a spiritual sort.  You can call it coincidental or ironic if you want to, but I choose to call it Providential that almost the exact same week six months ago, I had a a crisis of the spirit.

What's more?  I had been hearing the gurgling for longer than that. I had tried nearly everything to stop it, too. It would quiet down for a while, but then...


Six months ago, it all came to an ugly head. Six months ago, I discovered some really ugly roots growing too close to my spiritual junction box. I hadn't planted them, either. I was just guilty of letting them grow. You know, for the sake of the tree.

Can anyone relate?

Wouldn't you think I would have pulled up roots when I discovered them six months ago? But no. I didn't want to be left treeless.  I tried to blast through those bitter roots with the power of prayer instead.

It didn't work.

It didn't work because, sometimes, all the prayer in the world won't blast through a problem that God says it's time to uproot. 

As I stood there surveying the damage that day, I kind of wanted to give myself a good, swift kick in pants.  I thought about how much my lawn... and my spirit... might have grown in the six months that I wasted trying to keep the roots for the sake of the trees,  and I could almost hear the voice of Little Debbie the Closet Stuffer from THIS POST that I wrote years ago:

Musta been da debil... 

Musta been da debil that made me leave those bitter roots in the way. 
But the Lord's in me now, 'cause I'm pulling them up. 

I won't say it has been easy, and I won't say it has been fun, but this one thing I know: The view from the porch has changed since the beginning of the week. The time for uprooting is over, and now it's time grow.  As for the tree? Well, leave it to God to show us that what we think we want is never is good as what He wants for us. You see, I was fighting to keep the shade, but He was trying to give me the sun.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven. 
A time to be born, and a time to die. 
A time to plant and a time to uproot what has been planted. 

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