What Man Is This?
December 21, 2021 | My Jottings
A couple of weeks ago Lloyd and I drove 3 1/2 hours south to Stillwater, Minnesota, for a medical appointment for me. Since my appointment was a morning one, we drove down the afternoon before and checked in to the carriage house at a lovely Victorian inn by the St. Croix River. It was such a peaceful place to stay. We ordered Mexican food and Lloyd went to pick it up and brought it back so we could have dinner in our suite.
After a good night’s sleep, Lloyd dropped me off at the clinic and then returned to the inn to load up our things, and get the provided breakfast boxed up so we could enjoy it on the way home. Quiche, fresh fruit, and a baked hotdish of some sort with Bisquick and cheese and pesto.
The plan was to drive from Stillwater to Bruno, where Lloyd lives, drop him off at his cabin, and then I would continue on to Duluth, an hour north of Bruno. We stopped in a tiny town called Finlayson, MN to get gas on the way home. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and the gas station was old and I’d never been there before. As Lloyd got out to fill the Outback’s tank, I glanced to my left and gasped. About a stone’s throw away was a man unloading boxes from a truck. He was stacking them on a dolly, one by one, getting ready to deliver the goods inside the gas station. I grabbed my phone and started taking pictures of him immediately, and when he turned my way to go into the station, of course I stopped.
The reason I gasped and wanted to get some photos was because he was Michael’s identical twin. Not fraternal, not someone who looked like he could be a relative. His twin. His hair, his build, his profile, his glasses, the way he moved, his broad back, short legs. Even the way he was dressed was like Michael. An olive green sweater/jacket. Jeans. Work boots.
Here is the man in Finlayson, MN.
Here is a picture of Michael a couple of years before he died. I wish the photos were clearer.
As the man passed in front of my car to go into the station, I could see that his face wasn’t exactly like Michael’s, but almost. From the side, though, he was a true doppelgänger. Lloyd finished pumping the gas and got in the car, and I showed him the pictures and told him about The Man Who Would Be Michael. We waited until the man made his delivery and came back out to return to his truck. As he walked in front of us, he turned his head slightly toward me, smiled a small smile, and raised his hand in a quick wave.
A couple of days before this, Michael had been heavy on my mind and heart. We are approaching seven years without him, and it gives me so much happiness to think of what life in Heaven might be like for him now. Suffering over, beholding such beauty, knowing such peace, worshiping the Savior he loved…. all the things we try to conceive of with our minds, knowing how limited and anemic our imaginings of Heaven must be. Because of the verse in Hebrews chapter 12 which tells us we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, I had said out loud, “Michael, can you see us? Does the Lord allow you to watch, help, be involved in our lives at all?” Any Catholics reading this will have no trouble believing that could possibly be true. Most Protestants will think it’s not true. I myself have no idea, but the thought of it comforted me as I spoke to Michael in tears and loneliness.
Days later when I saw this man in Finlayson, I wondered what it could mean. I had never been to that gas station before. It’s hours from my home. Why did I see a man identical to Michael in almost every way, right after I had spoken to him as I never had before? Why were we there at exactly the same time he was, even though we didn’t really need gas that badly? Why did the man look at me, smile and wave? It could be coincidence, I know. But it still has me intrigued and on alert, wondering, pondering.
I texted the pictures of The Man Who Would Be Michael to a few friends — every one of them thought it was an old picture of Michael I was sending to them. Even his daughters had to look twice.
Whatever it means, it felt like a gift. I’m grateful to know there’s so much more going on aside from the things we see with our human eyes. Someday the veil will be drawn back completely, but for now, I’m content with little glimpses of God’s love.
Wednesday’s Word — Edition 151
December 15, 2021 | My Jottings
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
~~ Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamozov
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Gladys Light and the Hips
December 4, 2021 | My Jottings
Years ago our family attended an Assembly of God church called Glad Tidings. We were members there many years and raised our family going to services each Sunday and many Wednesday nights. I’m no longer a member there, but I have such wonderful memories. I taught Second Grade Sunday School, was involved in some women’s Bible studies, Michael and I belonged to a young couples’ cell group where the friendships we made were so cherished, and I remember many children’s Christmas programs in which my girls sang or wore lamb costumes. And who could forget the Harvest Festivals (because we didn’t do Halloween back then) where three year-old Sara won first prize for her Lazarus costume, which was simply toilet paper wound around and around and around her little self?
Our church’s custom was to have a Watch Night Service on New Year’s Eve, and the aim was to gather together to worship and pray as the clock turned over. When my girls were very young we didn’t go each year, but we were there a few times, staying up past our bedtime to be there. Several years the Watch Night Service included a talent show, and oh, how fun some of those were. There was always a wide variety of “talent,” ranging from a dear elder woman named Arlene who couldn’t sing, singing a falsetto of “I Love You Truly,” to a dad dressed in a tux, doing puppet/ventriloquism with a raw chicken, to lovely duets of hymns, piano solos, and skits put on by children. I think there were mime performances too.
One year in the mid-1990s, a group of seven women (me included) decided to put something together for the Glad Tidings Watch Night Talent Show. The movie Sister Act had been out for a while, and we chose the song “I Will Follow Him,” originally sung in the 1960s by Peggy March, but redone by the nuns in Sister Act as an anthem of love to their devotion to Jesus. Whoopi Goldberg was the fake nun who led the real nuns in their song, and even now as I’ve watched it back, I love it. What started out as a pop song was turned into a lively song of faith in the movie, about following Jesus wherever He would lead. How no other person could ever take His place in our hearts.
So. Our beautiful and kind pastor’s wife Kim was recruited, and even though she was more reserved, she was a good sport and agreed. The other six were Barb, Dawn, Kathleen, Joanne, Su and me. We knew it had to be a goofy performance, because we’d be so bad we wouldn’t want anyone taking us seriously. We decided to wear black stretch pants or leggings, padded grotesquely in the hips with towels or pillows (not that I needed any help in that area.) White blouses, hair in ponytails, red lipstick, and large Christmas ornaments for earrings. Like this, only much larger balls. And we all wore big sunglasses.
Our pastor’s wife Kim needed to stand out as our leader in some way since she would mouth the main vocals, so she wore a sequined knit turban on her head. She was front and center, the rest of us were behind and to the sides, the way a chevron of geese flies.
We thought we would do better if we played “I Will Follow Him” from Sister Act over the church’s sound system and lip-synched it rather than attempting to actually do our dance routine and use our own voices.
The whipped cream on top of this bizarre New Year’s Eve sundae was the large, sparkling disco ball we rented and hung from the ceiling in the church. And I guess the cherry on top of the whipped cream was our group’s name: Gladys Light and the Hips. So. Very. Appropriate. In every way.
The more we envisioned and practiced our fun number, the more we added to it. In hindsight I’m not sure I would ever hang a disco ball from a church ceiling again, but we were young and energetic then, and wanted to make people laugh and sing, and considering the raw chicken act, we didn’t think we were that far off course.
There was a good crowd on that New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service. Gladys Light and the Hips all got ready downstairs near the fellowship hall and we knew we had rehearsed our dance moves well.
We were introduced and took our places on stage with our heads bowed. The first part of the song begins slowly and reverently, and as Kim held a microphone and lip-synched dramatically, the rest of us took side steps and lifted our hands to the ceiling as we sang “I will follow Himmmmm.” We dipped low and scanned the ground at “there isn’t an ocean too deep” then raised our arms and gazed at the sky at “a mountain so high it could keep…. keep me away….away from His loooove.”
Then the music changes and the upbeat begins, and we sang and swayed and bobbed and did our best to do all our moves in unison, and well, the crowd (congregation?) went wild. People whooped and hollered and clapped their hands to the music, and of course that energized us and we gave it our all. Pillow-hips, ornament-ears, flailing arms and the whole bit.
The stage and the disco ball were lit; the other lights of the sanctuary were out, so when we looked out at the people as we performed, we could see it was crowded and lively, but we couldn’t see faces — just silhouettes.
Right around 20 seconds into the bee-bopping part of the song, I saw two people about half-way back in the church stand up abruptly, move sideways to the end of the pew in front of all the people seated, and quickly stride down the aisle and exit the church. Oh, do I remember their body language. It said, “We cannot take one more minute of this debauchery.” The two women who left were pillars of our church. A respected, godly widow and her servant-hearted, middle-aged unmarried daughter, both of whom I liked and admired. As we Hips twirled and sang I saw them depart in what I perceived as a sort of holy huff, and my heart sank. We had not wanted to offend anyone, and clearly we had.
After our song we got a standing ovation and thought it was the most fun we’d all had in a long time. What a memory we’d created. We found out soon after that Myra and her daughter Doreen had thought we were singing an old hymn, and desecrating it with our antics. When our pastor explained to them that it wasn’t a hymn at all, but just a pop song rewritten for the movie Sister Act, to express the love nuns can have for their Lord, I don’t think they changed their minds about our performance. I can certainly understand how thoughtless that must have seemed. I can’t say I would think any differently if I saw someone sing The Old Rugged Cross and treating it so lightly.
But, we told each other, we weren’t singing a hymn. We always looked back on that New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service with a bit of a wince, recalling those two silhouetted figures marching out of the sanctuary while we took our number to its finish.
The whole Watch Night Service was video-taped that night, and Gladys Light and the Hips were planning to get together in the New Year at someone’s house for snacks, fellowship, and to watch the talent show on the VHS tape. Before that could ever happen, we learned that someone had “accidentally” recorded something over the talent show, and our performance (and all the others) was lost forever.
Oh, what I would give to be able to show that video to my grandchildren now. They think I’m fairly stodgy and boring, and I’d love to see the looks on their faces as they gape at their grandma singing and dancing and having the time of her life.