Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the Westside church in Salem, Virginia. It was a blessing and honor for Glenn and me to be invited back to speak to the regulars and home-comers as faithful saints gathered on this day, as they have faithfully done in this locale for fifty years. Interestingly, our local work with this congregation began on it’s twentieth anniversary. We were extremely blessed to have lived and worked there for a wonderful and memorable five years. That means that twenty-five years have elapsed since we made the decision to move from Salem to Alabama. That sweet family of God, where the candle of Revelation two is very much still aflame, will always hold a deep and dear spot in our hearts.
I learned some things about myself yesterday about which maybe I needed to be reminded, or even to learn.
I learned that I love to talk about God’s Word, no matter the circumstance. Though there were friends in that room for whom I have great affection…friends I was longing to hug and with whom I longed to reminisce, the first order of the day and my favorite one, other than worshiping Him, was to open that great Book and talk about Philippians one. It still always amazes me that He has given us Words appropriate and pressing for every circumstance and meeting of His people.
I learned that time is a speeding locomotive and I long for the timeless side. It just took my breath away when I realized a few days ago that exactly thirty years had elapsed since that day we pulled up with a newborn and a three-year-old into the driveway at 203 Parkview Drive in Salem and saw Charlie Gwaltney, in his plaid driving cap, waving us into the drive as he bounded across that yard with a big box of doughnuts and a welcome that good elders know how to give new preachers. How could this really be? I want to be in that place where the shock of the passing of time never gives me this helpless feeling and where death doesn’t steal away large segments of the congregation while I’m briefly looking the other way. That congregation around the throne will be secure and immovable.
I was reminded that I am consistently treated, by God’s people, in a manner that’s far better than I deserve. I want to treat every member of His family with whom I have contact just that way. They are the channel of His blessings to me. May I BE the channel to others.
In the middle of huge blessings that were just packed tightly into a few hours, there was still something that was inside of me…something that gave my heart just a shred of dissonance and kept making me think “I love this so much, but why is this so hard?” I kept trying to put my finger on it, this “feeling” that kept welling up inside me, sometimes almost evoking sentimental tears. It’s hard to know, in the middle of the emotion of a flood of memories, but I think the dissonance was this: The world, the congregation, the work, the influence in Salem Virginia is not mine in 2017. In 1987-92, that was my world. My purpose was all wrapped up in souls in Salem—my kids’ souls, my husband’s work, the Eddlemons, who were learning the gospel, the ladies retreat, the friends and family day, the radio program and the neighborhood outreach that I tried to do at the library and the school and in our neighborhood fourth of July parade.
But someone else’s truck is parked in our driveway. That’s a good thing. It means we went somewhere else, to a place where we thought the need was greater for us—for our family in His cause, for ministry to my mother who was dying, at the time. Certainly we are never irreplaceable. In fact, those who followed us have done greater works than we could have done in that place. For those men and those works, we are profoundly grateful. There’s a great work still happening in that place. God’s goodness is everywhere in Salem, Virginia in 2017.
But is it okay to acknowledge with a little bit of sad nostalgia that, right then and there, in the middle of a huge flood of memories for so many people, that I am one of those memories? Maybe it is okay. Maybe it’s a good thing to enjoy being physically present in the time and place, wherever that is, where our influence for Him, however small, is greatest. I had a work to do for Him in Salem in 1987-92 and it kept me very busy and extremely fulfilled. It was the “time of our lives” when reviewed with the perspective of child-rearing. What happened in those years is propelling a young preacher in Jacksonville, Florida today and a young mother of two who is a preacher’s wife in Columbus, Georgia. There’s no adequate gratitude to the Westside church for that environment of faith.
But still, our influence there now is extremely limited. I think that reality yesterday was a kind of wake-up call for me. If there is any good that I can do in my sphere of influence in 2017, I’d better get busy. Many of those who listened to the gospel in 1987 have gone on to glory or moved to other places. Lots of the arenas where our words were heard have been replaced by other venues—better ones. This reality made me long to return to the place and time in 2017 where our small influence is still engaged—where there is still a space to “get busy.”
Today, we are on our way back there. We wouldn’t trade that walk down memory lane yesterday for any amount of money. It was priceless to us. We owe a great debt to the Westside family. But we praise Him for the here and now…and, most of all, for the heaven that waits!