My pastor recently delivered a sermon that I needed to pay extra attention to. It’s not that I don’t always pay close attention to the sermons, but anybody who’s spent much time in the congregation of a church will tell you that on occasion a person’s mind can wander. When I was an early teen, I was in love with the preacher’s daughter and so my mind was on the two of us skipping gaily, hand-in-hand through meadows of dandelions while the theme song from The Neverending Story played on the wind in the background. In fact, thinking about her now brings back an embarrassing memory involving her from those days and I’ll tell you about it at the conclusion of this episode. I’m Michael Blackston and this is my Funny, Messy, Life.
Nowadays, I’m more apt to stay engaged with the sermon and only mentally stray when he mentions food, or football, or food. But this recent sermon was different because he was going into detail about deaconship in the church - what it really means and what’s expected of someone who’s called into it. It was important to me because I was, that very day, being ordained as a deacon and I’m here to admit that I was terrified. Why? Because all of my life I’ve had this idea that being a deacon was something that was for better men than me. I know that’s not true - that men are men and we all have our flaws, but there’s a standard that comes with the position. Not that we’ll always meet it because of said flaws, but that we’re at least expected to honestly strive for it. The pastor joked that he thought of the word deacon as less of a noun and more of a verb, so he would be preaching on what it means for a deacon to deac. We all had a laugh and I paid close attention to what he said, but sometimes a spark lights in my head and I just can’t douse the flame. It has to do with how wrong I was when I was a kid about what I would have to face if I ever became the deacon of a church and I feel the urge to remind any of my fellow church members who might read or hear this that I think I’m funny and you need to keep that in mind if you’re gonna go any further in this piece. Also, I take my deaconship seriously and have seen the error of my ways when you compare the truth to what’s next.
So, without further ado, the following is a list of things I thought were possible issues I might have to face if I were to become a deacon.
Incompetence In Finger Pointing.
When you’re a kid, you think every adult in church knows better than you and feels like an authoritarian. Double that when it comes to deacons. I always thought of the deacons as the church deputies, Barney Fife-ing their way into God’s good graces in the hopes of getting a pocket FULL of bullets when they got to heaven. I’ve since learned that’s not the case. Our relationship to God is not Barney’s relationship to Andy, but Opie’s. Unfortunately, kids have active imaginations and I always thought it would be a daunting task to be one of the ones who pointed their fingers at the rest of the congregation when they were getting out of line, like not putting anything in the plate when it came by and singing the wrong words to Just As I Am. “Just as I aaaam, without one flea …”
Forgetting All Of My Deacony Blocking.
Speaking of passing the plate, this one was always a big deal for me. How do they do it, bookending the pews as one passes the plate down, the other intercepts it, then moving another row back in a complicated volley of plate passery that even Joe Montana would be envious of? I can’t concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds, so how would I, little Michael be able to learn such mastery if I ever became a deac … oh look, Alaina just played with her hair. See, that’s what I’m talking about. Even the “memory me” is incapable. Heaven forbid I considered the whole Communion dance, what with the trays of broken up saltines and Smurf sized cups of grape juice. In that scenario, I always saw myself dropping the juice tray or forgetting I’d already passed the tray down an aisle and those people would have to explain why they’d had seconds at the Lord’s Supper.
Being Called On To Pray.
I would say this is probably still a concern for most people today if yours is a church where random people in the congregation are called on like tributes in The Hunger Games to pray during the service. They say the fear of speaking in public is number one on the phobia list for most people, but it doesn’t really bother me too much today. As a kid it terrified me because I saw that a lot of times, it was one of the deacons who got called on. I never once saw someone jump up from their pew and volunteer as Tribute for the one called upon. If you were chosen, you either obediently prayed aloud or suffered eternal hell. The choice was yours. On top of that misguided outlook, I heard eloquence in those prayers. Old men went on for hours praying over everything they could think of, using impressive words like, Thee and Thy, or adding “eth” at the end of everything because they only prayed in King James. Since then, I’ve learned that God actually prefers less eloquence when it comes to prayer and favors words that come from the heart, which is a good thing for me. You’d think a writer could pray it up nice with the best of them, and I could if given an entire lunch time and a glass of tea to come up with just the right way to say it. That’s not the way I pray off the cuff, though. I pray like a cave man who has just discovered fire and wants to thank the bright, shiny, ball creature that comes out in the sky during the day.
Being The Next Man Up.
I know it’s not like politics where if something happens to the preacher, it’s the next guy in line that gets the job, but as a kid, I didn’t know that. I thought that the higher up the deacon ladder somebody got, the closer to the pulpit they got. That meant I would have to be the one who gives the sermons if tragedy suddenly struck and everybody ahead of me was killed by a rogue baptismal pool electrocution and the pastoralship landed in my lap. This also makes me wonder just what I thought went on in those deacon meetings. Today, I could do it. I enjoy studying the Word, but back then my expectations were that I would have to know every name in Chronicles by heart. Let me re-pronounce that for my super-southern friends … Ca-RON-icles.
It’s not as daunting a task as I thought it might be, becoming a deacon. Don’t get me wrong, - it’s a serious appointment. I’ll have weeks that I’m the “deacon-on-call”, I have widows that are assigned to me and it’s my responsibility to see to it they have everything they need. I don’t have to worry about being called on to pray because I’m the worship leader and I’ll be doing my share of that anyway. There are other things that’ll be expected of me as well, but now I know I’m up to it. It just took a little growing up and getting my head on straight. I still have a hard time not looking at a couple of girls during the service, though. One’s my wife and the other one is my daughter, but they're never more than an arm’s reach away and I’m the one who periodically runs a finger through their hair.
So one more thing before I bring this one to a close. I promised you I’d tell you about the preacher’s daughter I was so in love with. I’ve already told you her name. It’s Alaina. She’s the reason I think I’ll always have a soft spot for Italian girls. I contacted her to get her blessing before mentioning the following story because I initially intended to keep her name out of it. I didn’t know if she’d want me calling her by her real name and I won’t give you her last name, although my peers who grew up with us will know her well. I looked her up on Facebook and messaged her. It’s the first time we’ve communicated since my days of pining for her and she was a great sport about it. In fact, I revealed a secret I’d been hiding since I was 13 years old and she told me she was honored to be such a sweet part of my memories. So let me get into it because it’s pretty cheesy in my opinion and cowardly of me to boot. Here’s a bit of backstory …
I hadn’t thought of Alaina as any more than a friend that I rarely talked to as a preteen until a dream I had one night. In the dream, Alaina and I were riding in the backseat of my mom’s car and she pulled into a parking space in front of Sky City. That’s a long forgotten chain of stores that disappeared sometime in the late eighties, I think. In the dream, I looked to my left and there was Alaina looking back at me with those big brown eyes and smiling. That’s all there was to the dream, but it was enough. To this day, I don’t have a clue as to what caused it, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Always have. From that moment on, my Sunday mornings at Grace Baptist Church in Elberton, Georgia were changed forever. I thought I was in love, but I never told her. I just pined away for several years from a distance. Well, I take that back … I told her once, but I didn’t sign my name. This is the part that I said was cheesy and more than a tiny bit embarrassing on my part.
Apparently, as is so often the case with someone who admires another from afar, eventually the tension mounted to something that could no longer be contained. That’s why one afternoon, I couldn’t take it any more and wrote a letter to Alaina, expressing my love, but I was still too shy and insecure to tell her who I was. I was living in a house about a mile from her in town and I would ride my bike past where she lived constantly, hoping to get a glimpse of her and her long, dark hair. I planned on waiting until everybody in my house was asleep and sneaking out to leave the note in her mailbox. And I did just that.
Okay, okay, you want to know what silly old thing a 13 year old boy writes in a note as a secret admirer. I guess since I’ve gotten this far, I should probably tell you.
Here’s what it said … wait for it ……..
Someone out there loves you.
That’s it. No name, no anything. Just that simple sentence, loaded with extra cheese. I slipped it into the small mailbox that was on her front porch in the middle of the night and it’s taken me 34 years to come clean about it. That’s right, I came clean. I had to if I was going to tell the story to the tens of people who listen to my podcast.
Alaina has been great about all this, Again, she said she was honored and thanked me for taking her on a trip down memory lane. She also assured me that my message asking permission to talk about this was in no way creepy because I mentioned a couple of times that I wasn’t trying to seem like Creepy McCreepers from Creepytown, USA. As for the note I left in the mailbox, she hasn’t mentioned it in our correspondence and that’s okay. She either doesn’t remember it, never got it, or doesn’t want to talk about it. And there’s no reason to. Whatever the reality, she now knows she had a secret admirer and she knows who it was. And I think that’s pretty cool. I, myself, wouldn’t change anything about how my life turned out. I’m completely head-over-hills for my bride and the sweet, musical stage babies we made together. Still, this lane of memory is one that I think will always make me smile because as cheesy as it might have been, it was innocent, honest and true. And I believe that’s the way childhood ought to be.
I’m giving you permission to share this if you liked it, even if some of my classmates get wind of it and point fingers at me for being such a dork. It’s okay … I embraced the dorkness of it all a long time ago. And if you’re ever passing through Elberton, Georgia on a Sunday morning, we’d love to have you over at First Baptist. I’m the worship leader there and now that’s also where I deac … I’m deac-ing? Deaconing … That’s where I’m a deacon! I’m Michael Blackston and after a looooong hiatus I’ll regale you all about soon, it’s good to be back in the saddle, telling you stories from my Funny, Messy, Life.
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