The Saints of our Lives: A Thank You Letter

Some sow, some tend and some harvest

By Jeffrey M. Bishop
The Flame Volunteer Writer

“This is Your Life” was a TV show in the golden age of television. Each week, friends and loved ones of that week’s guest of honor would share stories of meaningful or poignant intersections of their lives. These separate anecdotes drew a constellation – a sort of “connect-the-dots” picture  – of the person being honored.

For every Christ follower, there is a similar constellation contributing to our faith story. The stars of our personal map of Heaven are simple saints – otherwise normal people who, at some necessary juncture, provided wisdom to help mold the sticky, wet clay that we are to more closely resemble that perfect form of Jesus. While God gets all the glory, His agents certainly warrant eternal gratitude, as saints of our lives. Here are a few of mine:

My parents were free thinkers who valued independence and critical thought over any other ideal. They didn’t aim to raise a brood of atheists, but that’s more or less what they got from the six children they raised. And yet, in this environment, I found God, certainly by His plan.

To my understanding, my parents’ virtue of independence looks a lot like God’s gift of free will. And critical thinking and open inquiry certainly resemble God’s instruction to test everything and hold fast to what is good. Even questioning authority is critical to grasping the Gospel; countless times God tolerated what would seem to a lay reader to be insubordination. Abraham’s appeals for mercy for Sodom? Jacob grappling with God Himself? Wrestling with God for truth and understanding.  These tools – God-given and inherited alike – were essential to finding God with my head as well as with my heart.

We loved it when Grandpa Hannawald came to visit; he was warm and humor-loving and his visits often accompanied our favorite celebrations, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The richness, variety and quantity of food made these meals special and unique, but so, too, did the prayers that he led before each meal. That deep, clear, sonorous voice echoes in my ears even today.  Even to an unchurched boy, I knew they were professional-grade, steeped over decades of lay leadership at the United Methodist Church in Pratt, Kansas. For years, this was the entirety of my sustenance of sermon, worship, praise and supplication all in one; the entire Gospel delivered in our pre-supper grace.

Reflecting, these prayers didn’t express my family’s faith; we had none. Rather, they were mere tradition. But two things are true: despite the motive, God was there with us; and even now, when we gather, my family prays. And God is still there.

I met my wife of 20 years, Tina, at the pinnacle of my atheism. We started dating at college. Raised more or less a “Christmas-Easter” Christian, she had only recently come into her own mature understanding of her Christian faith, to truly be “born again.” To her credit, she had all of the conviction of a new believer, but none of the evangelical zealotry that would certainly have turned the then-me off. Instead, she patiently endured my pseudo-intellectual rants about the impossibility of religion, while matter of factly telling me her intention to attend church – and inviting me to join her. Somehow, her witness, church-Gospel osmosis, and a growing healthy skepticism about my own atheistic skepticism led me to ask the right kinds of questions – and to find the right kinds of answers – such that within a couple years, when it came time to stamp my Air Force dog tags, I wanted them to read “Christian.”

Clearly there are many others – Louis Kennedy’s youth pastor who led me to recite the sinner’s prayer of salvation long before I would know or value what it meant; Sharmaine Chappell and her large cross made up of iron nails that led me to ask about the connection between the nails and the cross (so little did I know); Dean Padgett, whom I regard as “the Johnny Appleseed of Christian good cheer,” for modeling how we should act; my in-laws Jack and Barbara Shannon, who maintained reverent joy despite Job-like life challenges that would have crushed lesser people – and so many others of you who remain unnamed, but not unappreciated.

To all the saints of our lives, thank you for being the Church and speaking – or behaving – truth into our lives. For those fully arrived at faith, we should in turn serve the Kingdom, as a wayfinder star, one of many in a constellation there to point others toward Christ.

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