I was so cool, reared back in my high back vinyl chair, trying to figure out the role of a full-time minister. Suddenly my study door flew open, and the most God awfully dressed woman burst into my office unannounced. She belted out, “I’m Rose. My husband, Hank, is one of your elders. You’ll get to know us real good. Just thought I would stop by and welcome ya.” Her sculptured face was homely. She had harsh German features. Her lips moved but the rest of her face remained fixed. Perched at different levels on her hair and nose were three pairs of glasses—probably the first so-called trifocals ever seen in Tennessee. Her sunglasses nested on her hair directly behind her graying bangs. The other two rested on her nose. Barely catching the tip of her nose were her reading glasses. Further back on her nose were the glasses she used for general vision that I assumed she removed to read.
I was immediately aware that this woman was either very poor or simply didn’t care a flip about personal appearance. Her blouse was a short-sleeved brown floral pattern, faded from years of use. She had saddled up so close to my desk that the part of her skirt I could see reminded me of a faded army jeep. But the truth is I couldn’t think much about color coordination or fashion. This woman had some of the biggest bequests that I had ever seen (and I mean seen). The old blouse had obviously lost a few buttons over the years and Rose had failed to replace them. There I sat, a young minister trying to not do anything stupid during my first week. Yet these bulges were popping out of the gaps created by pressure on the fabric that couldn’t be constrained by the remaining buttons. I didn’t know where to look. If I moved to her face, they were still there. Glancing down, they still cried, “Up here, young man!” I began to worry that someone else would come into the office and see this site of the young minister and Rose, blooming for the world to see.
Actually, she dropped by to ask me to go with her the next evening to the meeting of the Benton County Parent/Teacher Association. Of course, I agreed. Did I have a choice? She promised to pick me up at the manse ten minutes before the meeting.
I was ready, but she arrived late in another unbelievable outfit that was much more modest than the day before. She drove an old grey Cadillac that looked like a cross between a hearse and a bat-mobile. We arrived about fifteen minutes late and people packed the lunchroom that doubled for a meeting hall. The president was already into the business of the evening. Just as I was thinking about a seat for the two of us, Rose burst to the front of the room and began to wave her arms to get the chairman’s attention. Now, when Rose spoke everyone listened, like it or not. So, he paused. “Rose?”
She turned to the group, smiled ever so slightly and proclaimed, “I want ya’ll to meet my new preacher, Brother Bob Watkins, and he will now lead us in a word of prayer.” From that moment on, I have been a bit more sympathetic about the movement to exclude prayer from schools. Our drive home was quiet from my side of the car and I wondered—how many crazy people are there in this church? Am I really supposed to find a way to influence the spiritual growth of this heard-headed and self-absorbed woman? Was I totally unkind to say under my breath—”this woman is a certifiable nut?” No one had told me that such people existed in the church. But, it didn’t take long for me to learn that my path of greatest peace was to not expect the expected and prepare for a significant surprise at any given moment. People don’t fit into the little boxes that I had previously built during my sheltered life as a farm boy.