Vibrating pews and big-headed donkey angels

Countdown to Kianna: Twenty-one, 20, 19, 18 days … until delivery. Kelly told me tonight, “You know, Kianna won’t be born on the due date.” (That’s Feb. 19). And she’s probably right. I don’t think the countdown will get to “Minus 1.” If she takes after her mom and Grammy, she’ll be a little bit early. They are beyond punctual. On the other hand, I’m perpetually a little bit late.

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

It’s Wednesday, which means “prayer meetin’,” but I’m actually mining golden memories for this post from Sunday night services.

First, let’s get started with a couple of songs. From the old Broadman hymnal we have “Lead Me Gently Home,” as sung by a Ugandan choir. They have such a great time singing this and it’s such a happy presentation. I laughed and sang along.

That was our oldie. Our modern worship tune for the day is Darlene Zschech singing “Worthy Is The Lamb.”  As always, even the Baptists with us today should feel free to raise their hands.

Now …

There’s some disagreement about the details – and I expect my mother might chime in after she reads this – but when I was 4 or 5 years old, I got left at church on a Sunday night. In my version, I was left for hours and woke up in pitch black darkness, terrified and alone. In my mom’s version – let me see if I can get this right – she thought I’d gone home with Dad (the pastor), but Dad knew I had stayed behind with Mom (the choir/music director) while Mom led youth choir practice.

We’ll come back to this long-running debate over who left me, how long I was left, and whether the trauma was responsible for me still having – to this very day – the heebie-jeebies inside a dark, empty church.

From early on, and I’m talking age 6 and earlier, there were two things I loved about church. One, Mom scratched my back during the sermon and service, if only to placate me. I’m guessing it worked most of the time. The second thing: There’s nothing like hearing and feeling the music of voices and piano, and sometimes an organ, as the notes, chords and harmonies reverberate through a church pew and into a little boy’s ear. (The little guy is lying with an ear on the pew because his mom sedated him by scratching his back). On the rare occasion when my dad was singing beside us, something profound happened. The wooden church pews absorbed and conducted a slightly different vibration. I could literally feel it.

Dad sang bass.

It was many years before I unraveled the mystery of SATB. (Soprano, alto, tenor, bass.) I’m sure I was a world-class hellion much of the time, but I must have been still long enough and often enough to literally soak up the music. And there was even something distinct about different hymnals. I’m more accustomed to the Baptist Hymnal, but sometimes I’ll hear a song ­– these days, usually only in the furthest recesses of my mind – and I’ll know the song came from the Broadman hymnal.

The night my mom left me at church all night after youth choir practice, I’d apparently fallen asleep in a pew. I was a very diminutive child, so I would have been easily missed. Which I was. Now I’m sure I might be mixing memories of listening to youth choir practice at various times, but I want to say that I fell asleep to the song, “Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet.”

Girls, softly and meekly: “Though they be red … like crimson.” Guys, boldly: “They shall be … as wool!”

However it happened and whatever songs they sang, the music vibrated through the wood and gently into little Jodie. (Whisper-read this now). Isn’t that a sweet, precious picture? Ahhh.

(End whisper-read and insert feelings of panic and despair).

I woke up. The lights were off. I was alone.

I’m remembering the memories of a teeny tiny, terrified little boy who had been left at church, probably for hours, so don’t laugh at this next part. I’m not sure who told me that I shouldn’t have been scared, because angels were watching over me. The teller of that supposedly peaceful thought must have thought that “angel” would impart peaceful thoughts into my psyche, but no. Maybe it was from hearing the story of Balaam and the talking donkey – and an angel with a flaming sword – because I then had a recurring dream of waking up in an empty, dark church ‑ scared and alone – with a big-headed donkey staring at me, with a very unapproving expression on its big donkey face.

Even now as I remember that I want to go turn on every light in the house.

That’s how I remember things. Youth choir was over, the lights turned off, and everyone left – including my mom. It was First Baptist Church in Holt, Mo., probably 1968 or 1969. In my version – and I really don’t have a single fact to back this up – Mom got all the way home, where Dad asked her, “Where’s Jodie?” Someone eventually came back to get me, although I don’t recall the moment of rescue.

In my mom’s version, youth choir was over, she turned the lights off and had just gotten to her car when she wondered, “Where’s Jodie?” It’s possible – and I’m not trying to let my mom off the hook here – but it’s possible that’s how it happened. And it’s also possible that maybe, just maybe, she went back into the church, scooped up her sleeping little boy, drove home and carried the little fella to bed.

It’s possible.

But, if that’s the case, I have one question: Where did the disapproving, big-headed donkey come from?

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #19: I talked to your mommy last night and I laughed when Kishia told me about the other morning when the alarm went off and it made you jump. Well, I’m not sure if “jump” is the word, ‘cause it’s kinda cramped in there where you are right now, but it must have got your attention. You sweet, sweet little girl.

See how much fun we’re going to have? You’re already making me grandpa-laugh and you’re not even here yet!


Filed under Inspiration, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

2 responses to “Vibrating pews and big-headed donkey angels

  1. Ruby Jackson

    You are right Jodie. Your mother will chime in here. Of course you were never left at church. You never went to sleep on Sunday evenings or Wednesday evenings. However, I did rub your back for you. Your older brother Robert enjoyed having his back rubbed also when he was little. Your imagination is what will make you a terrific auithor.

  2. Hi, Mom! Maybe my imagination is so vivid because I was left alone in a dark church when I was a wee lad, and I’ve turned it into a comedy bit as my way of dealing with the traumatic life-long scar.

    Then again, I suppose I could be wrong.

    Love, Jodie

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