December 9, 2019

Tears in Heaven

My great grandmother on my mom's side was a devout Free Will Baptist preacher's wife. I can't speak to what all Free Will Baptists believe, but some of the things my great grandmother held tightly to were her belief that women should not cut their hair because it was their "Crowning Glory" nor should women wear pants or God forbid shorts! (only long dresses). She didn't believe in drinking alcohol, working on Sundays, or owning a television. She was far too complicated (and wonderful) a person to sum up in a few paragraphs, so I'm not even going to try.

What I want you to learn about her was that she got really emotional at church. Long after my great-grandpa had a church where he was the main pastor, he was invited to guest preach for area congregations. And my family would sometimes go to whatever church he happened to be guest preaching at. Side note: Sometimes he'd direct me to bring my portable tape player, complete with the required six D batteries it needed to work, and sing a song or two.

I don't remember ever going to church with my great-grandparents, whether my grandfather was preaching or not, that my grandmother didn't have a wadded up tattered Kleenex in her balled fist. She'd get emotional and start to cry, or shout, or repeat loudly, "Well, praise the lord." If I close my eyes, I can see this scene as clear as anything. I can imagine the way she'd kind of hop back and forth, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, all the while crying and shaking her Kleenex around.

As a little kid, it scared me somewhat. I wasn't really scared that anything bad was going to happen, but maybe anxious from the uncertainty of what she might do. However, it didn't bother me because I knew that even though some of my grandmother's ways were different than our norm, it was all genuine. I'll never believe for one minute that it was put on or contrived, or anything other than authentic. She cried during church because it meant so much to her.

While I was growing up, my parents took my brother and me to a big, traditional First Baptist church. Where ladies that spoke in a southern drawl wore beige suits and matching hats. We sat straight up in the pews and weren't even allowed to draw or play tic-tac-toe on the back of the offering envelopes. I don't remember anybody crying, EVER. Except maybe a random child whose parents opted not to send them to the children's nursery.

The contrast between the church we regularly attended and the churches we attended with my great grandparents was stark. And even though I have always believed in God, I can't say that big emotional outpourings have ever been something I did at church.

My husband and I have been visiting a Lutheran church for about a year. I had no prior experience with Lutherans nor had I ever been to that type of church before this one. We go to the early service, which probably averages about 35-40 attendees. We're two of the youngest people by about 20 years. It's pretty low-key and we sit in the back, but I feel something different than I've ever felt at church. I love the quiet, simplicity of the services. I love the ebb and flow of the liturgy. Many Sundays, I am moved to tears by one small thing or another in the service and find myself trying to control my weeping, because it means so much to me.

Tonight I attended a mid-week Advent service, that started out with soup in the fellowship hall. Sometimes Emmanuel God With Us looks like split pea soup with big hunks of ham in it. I went back for seconds and just pushed the ham to one side, not wanting anyone to feel weird because I'm a vegetarian.

When we got to the sanctuary, the service started with recognizing and singing Happy Birthday to a member in the congregation who just turned 99. The rattle of her oxygen machine was a bit distracting at first, but after a few minutes, it became part of the experience.

At the end, the pastor asked everyone to gather around in a circle at the front for Communion. I stood by the 99 year-old who is deaf and partially blind, waiting to receive our elements. I thought of my great grandmother, who would be 105 years old were she still alive today.

I can't say for sure, but I bet she never attended a Lutheran church service. I don't know how she'd feel about them using real wine or having a lady preacher.

But when the ministers came around with the wafers and the cup, and looked into each person's eyes, saying "This is the body and blood, broken and shed for you," I did the big ole ugly cry, complete with snot dripping from my nose. I think my grandma would have understood that. Now I need to remember my Kleenex the next time.