Today we visited a church to hear a family we love play music. Man, the music was so good. Filling the small, high ceiling sanctuary were the organs of gospel music and the cadence of Americana. The fat and tender guitar riffs drifted into my soul. God was pressing on me, as he had many times before in worship. It nearly always took the form of tears, and this time was no exception.
Though the music was modern, some of the hymns were not: we sang “Standing on the Promises”, familiar from my childhood days at small Bible Chapels on the east coast. Back in those days, I’d memorized God’s promises from scripture through clubs like Awana: “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. The promises were God’s, given to a different people at a different time, but we were taught to take them on as our own.
But today I heard the promises in a new way. I thought about my parents, and their parents, great uncles and aunts and more, who sang similar hymns. While cleaning the garage just a day earlier, I’d come across an envelope of cards sent to me on my first few birthdays from these very people. “We’re praying for you every day… we think of you often… we love you”. Besides their signatures, the cards didn’t say much more, but seeing them some forty years later had caused me to weep. I could not have seen at age 3, as I could now, that they really meant it. They took joy in me, loved me, and through the years would constantly remind me how they prayed for me every day.
When I read the cards, the evidence of prayer seeds planted four decades ago, I was forced to ask, “Were those prayers answered?” (yeah, my brain is a little complicated).
Instead of a clear answer, it sent me rolling over waves of gratefulness for the firm foundation my life was built upon, and the many turns it had taken. And how their presence, like God’s, had been with me all the way.
Now today in church, I was too choked up to sing but no matter, I imagined my dad’s – and his dad’s – singing voice mixed in with the congregation around me. So many times as a child bored in church, I would sigh and lean against my mother’s shoulder. I’d feel her singing voice vibrating through to my ears. Like a reverse ultrasound, it was my turn to hear her heart.
And this went back through many ancestors, working class tea-totalers who labored to put food on the table and thanked God before eating it. They’d lived out their lives faithfully caring for others, including me, following the path they thought best. And here I was, standing upon their foundation.
They’d kept their promises, and I was now standing on them.
As the refrain came again, “Standing, standing, standing on the promises,” I saw for the first time how the people are the promises. Many of this great cloud of witnesses have gone on to heaven, but their platform remains. I remember it every time I hear certain hymns sung. Their voices are close to me, not in faraway Scotland or Canada or Florida or Texas where they spent the majority of their Sunday mornings.
There are cultural customs to avoid stepping on someone’s grave, but today I was beyond that in celebrating that the life they lived was quite nearly the ground I was standing on. The people are the promises. And I am standing on the promises.
And now it is my turn. Entering mid-life I have begun to see how the people in charge really have no idea what they’re doing. And what a relief, since I still feel the same way. We have nearly raised our kids to adulthood, and it has been a mocktail mixed of bluffing and praying, topped with a small wedge of intentionality. I can’t believe they’re still standing.
I don’t profess to know how prayer works. I can’t scientifically satisfy the question, “Were their prayers answered?” I say this because I know many whose heritage was this way or that, but whose own lives are that way or this. There are many wanderers being prayed for and many foundations that weren’t.
But I know that I have a lot to be thankful for, and a big part of that “lot” are people. At a time when I’m learning everyone has a story, and there is no certain formula for arriving to it, I must have one too.
And though this has been a season of re-examining The Story, and my place in it, I am still standing.
And when I can’t, I’ll be standing on the people who got me here.
♦ weekendswell ♦