Prayer, Creativity & Faith

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #7

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone who helped you find God

This could be anyone from a nationally-renowned pastor or Bible scholar to a grandmother who taught you to pray. It could be a friend whose calm spirit draws you to her, while her words point you to the Almighty God. Maybe you’ve learned about God from your spouse, whose faith never wavers. Or from a child, whose enthusiastic faith knocks down your barriers of doubt and cynicism. Whether their influence has been small or large, whether it’s something easy to define or something abstract and elusive, reach out today. Let that person in your life know that their faith has inspired you or that the lessons they taught changed you.

When I first walked into what is now my church, I definitely felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t struggle with feelings of not being worthy or have worries that my less-than-perfect past disqualified me. (I certainly didn’t think I was better than anyone else. But somehow I “got,” right from the start, that God welcomed me anyway.) But I was strong and independent. Liberal and outspoken. A career woman who, at that time, earned more than my husband. In this church, though they’d walked away from old traditions governing the way people dressed, most women wore skirts and conservative shoes, had long hair and little makeup. They usually worked, but the jobs came after God and church and other family obligations. Husbands seemed to have authority over their wives. People shopped at thrift shops and bought bargain brands, while I bought high-end shampoos and didn’t have time to clip coupons, let alone a sane enough life to remember them when I went to the store. Moms carried their kids around with them—contentedly, rather than constantly looking for ways to get a break, to temporarily escape their duties, as I did. When someone taught them, they believed what they were told, without question. They already knew the Bible stories. And when music played, they danced.

And then there was me. I didn’t dance. I didn’t lose myself in the Spirit. When I finally raised one hand in worship, I held tight to the pew with the other hand, anchoring me in this physical world. When we gathered at the altar to pray, I’d keep one eye open. I’d pray, but I’d also notice the stack of hands as we prayed for individuals, hear the individual voices in the jumble that surrounded me. I watched. I listened.

But from the start, even though a part of me held back, God drew me in. And one of the key people in that process was Bishop Robert Miller.

In my mind, when I remember visiting that first week, he was standing on the platform, tall and dignified. Thin, in a well-cut suit, hair combed back, sideburns and a big smile. He stood at the podium and preached. I don’t know what he said. But I remember being intimidated. He was so slick, so polished. So knowledgeable. So holy. Not long after I started attending regularly, I remember Bishop stopping by my office one day to see how I was doing. I wanted him to like me. I wanted to impress him. But I always wondered what he must think of me because I didn’t feel like I fit.

Yet he welcomed me anyway. And when he taught, I was hooked. In between bites of donuts and sips of coffee, he talked to the adult Sunday school class. And  I took notes frantically, afraid I’d miss something. I filled the margins with my questions, then I went home and looked up what I didn’t understand. He challenged and engaged me. His messages were always spiritual—stories of faith, deep studies of the Scriptures—yet they captured my mind. Every week, without fail, I’d follow along. And by the end, as he brought the message around full circle, as he tied up all the loose ends, I was surprised. Fascinated. Amazed how all of these different pieces fit together into something whole and inspiring.

In the last few years, Bishop’s son Nathan has taken over in the role of pastor, and he gets much well-deserved praise. But to so many of us at Grace & Mercy, Bishop played a huge role in drawing us in, in pointing us to God.

At church on the morning that I’m writing this, we were singing “How Great Thou Art,” and Bishop sang a verse into the microphone. Tears ran down my face as my heart felt like it would burst with love and gratitude. This man has shown me so much. He stood strong in his faith, never wavering, as I wrestled with my questions, as I struggled with doubts. And he never failed to pour out his faith for all of us. The man who once intimidated me has softened. He reaches out an arm to hug me when he sees me. He reads my words and offers encouragement. Kids climb in his lap and make him laugh. His eyes crinkle when he smiles. And when he walks into the sanctuary, we all stand taller. He’s given so much to each one of us and we want to make him proud. We want to show him that he did well. That all of his serving and teaching mattered. That he was a conduit through which God spoke—over and over. Through which God revealed, illuminated, restored. And loved.

Who helped point you towards God? Let that person know that they made a difference. And please share your stories in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

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