I don’t know how many people stopped me in the church hallway today to ask, “Are you excited?” “How many days?” “How are the wedding plans coming?”I answered with an excited smile, “Yes, I’m very excited! Just 4 weeks, 6 days! And everything is going along so well.”
It must been Wilma, our prayer warrior confined to a chair with four wheels, who struck the nerve. “You’re going to be a farmer’s wife, right? I was just telling someone the other day how you and I are good friends, and how you were getting married and moving away. You’ll have to write me once in a while. We’ll miss you.”
I’ll miss them, too.
I’ve grown up with these people. I was born on Thursday the 22nd, and on Sunday the 25th, Daddy and Mommy carried me to church, where I was welcomed with a pink rose, pink balloons, and a pink bulletin insert announcing my arrival. Many of the faces that crowded around me in pictures that day are no longer here. They’ve gone on home to glory. But many are left, with a few more smile lines in their faces, and lots of stories to tell about when they used to babysit my daddy.
As we sang those good old hymns in church today, I looked at the dear ones around me, and their faces blurred through my tears.
Marge, Oleta, and Bea were missing from their pews. Each has lost her husband since the first of the year. Each was one of the sweet little old men I loved so much. And I know it might not be long before their dear wives join them on the other side of the Jordan. It seems like it’s almost been a race lately, to see who can make it to Heaven first. And I know when I come back to visit, there will be more empty spots on the pews.
I’ve grown up going to my mom’s parents, visiting the same church my mom was saved in. The same dear people who watched her grow up, watched me grow up from visit to visit. Some of them are even making the long drive just to come to my wedding.
Now, it will be me coming back to my church, just like Mom has always gone back to hers. It’s sad to think of leaving, and my heart breaks at the thought of the faces who won’t be there to greet me when I return. But I look forward to someday, Lord willing, introducing my children to the people who knew me at their age, if they haven’t gone on to Glory yet.
I’ll take them up close to Marge, so she can see their little faces, even though she’s legally blind. I’ll tell my children how she talked about her husband Ed with such love. How he would carefully hold her arm and guide her through church each Sunday, and how often I would look over during the sermon to see them holding hands.
I’ll introduce them to Bea, who shared 62 years of marriage with her husband Everett. I’ll tell them how I learned at his funeral that he and Bea read the Bible together every morning. That image has never left me.
I’ll point out Oleta, who was married at 14, and had 64 years of marriage with Jake, the love of her life. I’ll tell my wide-eyed 14-year-old daughter that Jake and Oleta’s 65th wedding anniversary would have been just five days after her daddy and I got married. But Jake went home to Heaven the month before.
Then my children will understand where I learned about love. How I saw commitment lived out in the lives of my family and my church family. Then they will know why their mommy still talks about the little old men from her church, and their wives who loved them so much.
The tears I cried today were not sad tears. I couldn’t be happier or more excited about marrying the man I love, and starting our own home. I look forward to finding our own little church for our children to grow up in. I’m praying it’s filled with little old people who will stop them, take their hand, and tell them, like Earl tells me so often, that marriage takes commitment. But I look forward to taking them back to the little church I grew up in. And letting them learn the heritage their mommy grew up with.
For not only do I have a family who loves and follows the Lord, godly grandparents, Christian aunts and uncles–but I have an extended family in my church family. Along with my relatives, my church family taught me the importance of love, commitment, forgiveness, and that good old time religion. And for that blessed heritage of our little Baptist church I cried many thankful tears today…