JANET PASCHAL and I have been "sort of friends" for about fifteen years. We've never met in person, but we've written each other from time to time, both emails and old fashioned post office kind of letters. And we've traded books.
Miss Janet is a well-known contemporary gospel music singer. If you're familiar with the Bill and Gloria Gather Homecoming videos, you've seen and heard her.
Not only is she a superb performer, but she's also an excellent writer. Writing is our common interest, although I am a musician, too.
A few years ago, Miss Janet married a commercial airline pilot, Captain John. Shortly thereafter, she learned that she had breast cancer, and quite frankly, it was nip and tuck for awhile. Even the strongest chemo didn't seem to be working. In my heart I knew she would be spared, and I told her so. Fortunately the doctors figured out the cure formula, and she's now cancer free.
Along with many of her other friends, Miss Janet sent me an interesting Christmas message. I want to share it with you because there is a lot there. Here it is, and here's where you can read more about her and buy her CDs. JANET PASCHAL.
There are some things that, as a child, I just knew. For instance, I knew that my sister would be the first to awaken on Christmas morning and I knew that she'd whisper for me to do the same. We'd tiptoe to the kitchen, feel for the light switch and, together, flip on the light. I knew there'd be two chairs - one for each of us - topped with toys, games, dolls and a stocking. Oh yeah, there were usually clothes and shoes but we didn't spend a lot of time there. We knew instantly which chair belonged to which sister - Kay's dolls were brunette and mine blond.
Just before noon, I knew we'd go to my grandparent's house for lunch. My grandmother would have cooked for days in preparation for her four children, their spouses, and all of the grandchildren. No one in the world cooked like she - especially her fried pies - and the dishes just kept coming. I knew every year that the men would gather around one large table and the women and children another. My grandfather always occupied the seat at the head of the table and when the last dish of food was crowded onto the table, everyone would automatically begin to quieten. No one ever had to say it was time to pray; no one ever asked who would pray. I knew that my grandpa would cup his hands over his plate, interlock his fingers, bow his head and begin, "Precious Lord...." I also knew that, when he finished, he and the other adults would quickly wipe away tears. That's when we'd all dig in to a feast without equal - until next Christmas, anyway.
Our first Christmas without him was sobering. We knew there'd be fragile, painful moments, and we all carried in our hearts a void so real that it was almost palpable, but it wasn't until the final bowl was placed on the table that everyone realized what would prove to be the most keen moment of loss. It was at that moment that everyone realized it was time to pray, and he wasn't there. For a few moments, no one knew what to say - or do. I think what we most wanted was another chance to hear him pray - just one more opportunity to hear his simple words convey his tenured depth. I think we'd have savored every syllable, every inflection. I think we'd have urged him to take his time, to let the food get cold, to pray without ceasing - literally.
He was the first one in my family to hear the gospel and to accept Christ into His heart; the first one courageous enough to take the Nazarene carpenter at His word; the first one daring enough to totally abandon everything else in order to gain Christ.
He, too, was a carpenter. He literally and figuratively built the little church where I was raised. He continually remodeled and updated the tiny building that housed his evangelistic fire. He built fellowship halls, covered homecoming tables, and panelled and carpeted everything in sight. But more than that, He built dreams and goals into the hearts of those of us who watched him drive nails and pour foundations. He showed us the gospel day after day, so it was only consequential that he preached it on Sundays.
He bore his share of sorrow. We watched his cross grow heavy and his steps slow when overwhelmed by the responsibilities incumbent upon one who dared expound the foolishness of the gospel. He scaled tall mountains, plowed through narrow places, and walked on water more than once. At least it seemed like it.
I don't think he was ever interviewed. His accomplishments were easy to pass over. He won countless wars without any fanfare, but he stored up stars, crowns, and weights of glory where it really counts - where motives matter and where prayers prayed in secret are heralded for all to see. He and my grandmother said a night never passed when they didn't both go to their knees and call each son and daughter, grandchild, and great-grandchild's name in prayer. Every night. Without fail. Only God knows where we would be were it not for those quiet, relentless prayers.
At one point, we knew it was only a matter of time before he would succumb to the dying part of living. The doctors say he cheated death way beyond their expectations. We think he cheated Satan quite a few times, too. His life spawned pastors, evangelists, lay workers, and one very grateful Christian singer. He left behind a rare, proud heritage and vivid memories of his fiery, but friendly sermons. We'll savor our recollections of Wednesday night church services when he'd reach for his worn, slightly out of tune guitar and sing ‘Amazing Grace' or ‘Zion's Hill'. That was always my favorite...
‘There waits for me a glad tomorrow
Where gates of pearl swing open wide
And when I leave this land of sorrow
I'll rest upon the other side
Someday, beyond the reach of mortal kings
Someday, God only knows just where and when
The wheels of mortal life will all stand still
And we will go to dwell on Zion's Hill.'
Oh yes, we'll go there - and he'll be waiting. His heart will be strong and his vision clear. His back will be straight and his feet steady. We'll go because he paved the way.... because he set the standard.... and because we know he won't quit praying until we get there.
So, when we gather around the table this Christmas, I know the food will be plentiful and good beyond description. I know the room will overflow with laughter and warmth, and I know that my dad will begin his prayer, "Precious Lord...." I also know that his petition will not go unheard by any of us. We won't waste a word of it. We'll drink deeply of the gratitude, the petition and the relationship. And I've a feeling that, as we begin to pray, somewhere in heaven my grandfather will quietly cup his hands, interlock his fingers, and bow his head. I can't prove it, but some things you just know.