While I was going to the moderate CBF seminary here in town, I worked at the Christian bookstore owned by the fundamental Southern Baptist Convention. You can imagine I heard some harsh words from “both” sides of the pew in regards to where I studied and where I worked. Let’s just say they don’t play nicely. In the beginning, I was a little put off by it, but as time went on, I started to use the challenges in both situations to learn what it means to welcome all.
This is a tribute to one particular lady I met while at the bookstore. Her name is Ms. Betty. Well, that’s what I called her. The first time we met, she had come into the store looking for some books for the ultra conservative church she attended in town. I assisted her with finding the books and we started talking. She was excited when I told her I was going to seminary, until I told her which one. “Why are you going to THAT seminary? I hear that they teach you bad things and wrong things about Jesus. You shouldn’t be going there.”
Yes, I was taken aback by her comments but I didn’t get mad. I quietly said, “No ma’am. That is not the case. It’s a good place. The professors are great. They challenge me and have helped me to find my faith. I am sorry you heard these things but they aren’t true.” She seemed ok with that explanation and pleased that I was in seminary. She asked if she could pray for my time and study. In the middle of the store and standing in front of the devotion section, she prayed for me.
Since that day, whenever Ms. Betty came to the store I greeted her at the door, or found her looking at cards, or shopping for a cute trinket. She always smiled when I found her, then we gave each other hugs and asked about how the other was doing. Every time we saw each other, she asked how school was going and was proud of my work. One day, her husband came inside and told me Ms. Betty was in the car and asked if I could go see her. Ms. Betty had an envelope for me and said, “In my prayer time, God spoke to me to give this to you.” I opened the envelope and it was money to go towards my books.
I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. Thankfully, I remembered to say “thank you,” and was humbled. This woman who not too long ago, told me I was going to the wrong place, just gave me money for books. After the conversation, I asked her why she stayed in the car. She hadn’t been feeling well and getting in and out of the car hurt her knee. I asked Ms. Betty if I could pray for her this time and she enthusiastically agreed. I prayed and she had tears in her eyes. She was humbled, gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek.
That was our time together. Whenever she came to the store, we talked, smiled, and prayed. Then one day she wasn’t there. My boss told me she was in the hospital. I went to see Ms. Betty and she was so touched that I came to see her in the hospital. I told her I couldn’t miss our prayer time and a chance to say hello. She started crying and I prayed for her.
That was our relationship for the rest of my time in seminary and the bookstore: talk, laugh, pray. Her willingness to be open to where God was taking me was evident in each conversation. She was like my grandmother, whom I’d been missing since 2002. Well, it was 2006 now and time for me to graduate and move onto God’s call to a church in Massachusetts. My boss came to graduation and gave me a gift. The gift was from Ms. Betty. She wanted to come (which I didn’t know) however; she hadn’t been feeling well that day. Before I moved, she called and asked if I would come over and visit with her and Mr. D. It was a wonderful visit that included a card, both sharing a the gift of words I will never let go of – how proud they were of me for answering God’s call and the profound guidance that comes from Jeremiah 29:11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” And not to be trumped; Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” I had tears in my eyes thinking about the first time we met and where we were on this day four years later.
We kept in touch for a little while, through notes and phone calls. Then just like many connections, we lost touch. It’s one of those guilty moments where I’ve been meaning to call her, just never did and now, wish I had. She’s not here any more to call, to laugh or to pray with. However I know she is listening and standing right beside Jesus Christ, humbled by the love and joy she is worthy of in Heaven for the sacrifice and love she’s given over 81 years. I have no doubt that God was waiting at the gate when she arrived. With arms opened wide and a smile on His face, God looked into her eyes and said, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Well done.”
Thank you Ms. Betty, for your open heart, laughter, prayer, and your everlasting gift of grace. Who knew that you could find so much in a bookstore.