I experienced the most heart-warming Grace Note this week. Here’s how it went down.
I’ve been slowly but surely cleaning out boxes of my mother’s things that I just wasn’t able to face all at once after she graduated to heaven nearly two years ago. So this week, when I extracted a sheaf of papers, I noticed a phone number hastily scribbled on a receipt from the funeral home, alongside the barely legible name, “Bert.”
“Bert?” I said to myself. “Now who is Bert?”
Suddenly it hit me: Miss Bert C. My beloved childhood Bible teacher I hadn’t seen in 50 years but had surprise-encountered at Mama’s funeral at my hometown. I vaguely remembered choking back tears as she embraced me there in the reception line before Mama’s service and gently asked if I remembered her.
Do I remember her? Do I remember Miss Bert? How could I ever forget the woman who loved me onto the straight and narrow? The dear lady who patiently fielded the myriad questions ruthlessly shot at her like a machine gun every Sunday night at Training Union by a pesky, 13-year-old, searching-for-real-faith Debbie. I could never forget the woman who took me seriously as I pelted her with the hard questions of faith:
“If Jesus loves the little children, why does he let so many die of starvation?”
“If God cares about us, why doesn’t He just save everybody?”
“Why is the blood the ultimate sacrifice? Who decided it was a good thing to sacrifice gazillion innocent animals and then go so far as killing the innocent son of God?”
And so many more questions I bombarded her with … week after week, year after year.
Seeing that hastily scrawled phone number on the receipt brought it all back clearly. It was largely because of Miss Bert that I had stayed the course of Christianity when I hit the crossroads of faith and could have easily turned a different direction rather than embrace the beliefs of my parents. Hinduism, agnosticism, and yes, even atheism had my attention. I wanted real answers before I could make a commitment.
And into this personal crisis of faith walked Miss Bert. I see now it was no coincidence. Miss Bert influenced my entire life journey with the quiet assurance of her faith in Jesus. And most of all, her patience. I had to know how she put up with me all those years ago. And why.
So I called her.
Miss Bert is now 87 years old and still sharp as a tack. She knew who I was immediately. She caught me up on her family news and her health. And then I thanked her for bearing with that annoying question-pelting kid from so long ago. Her reply floored me.
“Oh, no. You were never annoying. Well, maybe a little. But you’ve got it all wrong. God didn’t send me to be the the blessing for you, you were the blessing He sent to me. Trying to answer all your questions drove me deeper into the Bible and forged my own faith stronger. I needed it so much and God knew that. He used you to sharpen my faith.”
Miss Bert paused a long moment, and then continued. “You may not remember this, but one Sunday night, you read me passages from each of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) about the same event. Each was different and one even contained several statements that at first glance seemed to contradict the other three. You asked me, ‘If the Holy Spirit inspired these four guys, why can’t they agree on the details? How do we even know the Bible is true?'”
(Now I truly don’t remember this but it sure sounds like me. Especially the smart-mouth, sassy, 13-year-old me.)
Miss Bert said she was at a loss as to how to answer this MOST important question – the very crux of the Christian faith: “How do we know the Bible is true?” She felt the weightiness of getting this crucial answer right. So she said she’d get back to me about it the next week. And then she prayed. And later that night while tossing in her bed, she prayed some more. She asked God to help her know how to respond. That was Sunday night.
She did the very same thing on Monday and again on Tuesday. She prayed for God’s help with an answer that would anchor my faith.
Then on Wednesday night, Miss Bert said I came into the church sanctuary with my family (Daddy made sure we were at church every time the doors were opened) and sat right in front of her. Staring at the back of my tousled head (apparently I seldom combed my hair in those days), she prayed once again for God’s enlightenment on my most vital faith-question.
In Miss Bert’s words, “And then the pastor walked up front and announced that the message that night was going to be on ‘How we know the Bible is true.’ I almost dropped my Bible right on the floor. I hadn’t mentioned a word to him about your question but there he was, addressing it directly as if the Holy Spirit had put a bug in his ear.
“I saw you sit up straighter and tune right in before I started frantically taking notes,” Miss Bert told me in an awed voice. “Then when it was over, I reached forward and tapped you on the shoulder. ‘What do you think of that?’ I asked. And you said, without missing a beat, ‘Golly, Miss Bert, do you think he was listening at our keyhole?'”
Miss Bert’s sweet laughter tinkled across the miles. “I told you, yes, Debbie, someOne was listening, but He’s a lot bigger than the pastor!” After a few lovely, soul-cleansing, mirth-moments together, she continued in a more serious tone.
“You know, Debbie, I’m 87 now and knocking on heaven’s door. When the good Lord answers, they’ll call you and ask if you’ll come speak about God’s faithfulness at my Celebration of Life. I don’t want you to talk about me at all, only His goodness and mercy … okay?”
“Miss Bert,” I replied, picturing me standing beside a coffin without acknowledging the beloved saint in it, “There’s no way I can talk about God’s faithfulness without talking about you, too.”
“Oh.” Her voice softened. “Well then maybe they won’t be calling you.”
So whether I will actually get a chance to share about dear Miss Bert’s lifetime of faithfulness at her future homegoing is up in the air, but I want to share it with you here today in hopes that you’ll be as encouraged as I was all those years ago, to keep seeking Truth. Dig deeper and deeper into your Bible. And keep asking hard questions. The mode and timely delivery of real answers may surprise you.
Because someOne is listening at the keyhole.