Following seminary, the first pastor with whom I worked was Dr. James Carter -- more than a prince of person and the absolute best pastor for a minister of music practicing his craft for the first time. He was not a musician at all, even struggled to sing, "Happy Birthday," but he knew the difference between cheesy church music and that which had depth; he preferred the latter. His weekly column in the church newsletter and the title of one of his several books was, People Parables. The man could spot a sermonette in a people experience better and quicker than anyone I've ever known. I happened on a people parable today.
The best thing I've done this past month -- second only to having my kids, grandkids, and brother Randy at my house most of four days AND experiencing some wonderful Christmas music thanks to FBC Nashville and Brentwood UMC -- is beginning to walk Cool Springs Mall in the mornings before heading to the office. I don't give a hoot about the stores and shops, but walking indoors surely beats the winter weather. The very best thing about it, though, is the people -- the fellow walkers and mall caretakers.
Today I met one of the caretakers, the gentleman who sees to the indoor and outdoor plants in the place. I had seen and spoken to him in passing for a few weeks, but he seemed like the kind of person who might be fun to know better.
"I see you messing with all these plants around here. What all are you doing to them?"
"I get the paper and trash out that people put there. I water them on Thursday, and every three months I spray and wipe down the leaves with a mixture of water and oil to clean them and help them shine."
"Wow, that's a lot of work, but I can't help but notice how nice they all look. How many are there?"
"Inside there are 95, and outside there are 25, so 120 in all."
"I've watched you and it seems like you are pretty gentle handling each one."
"Yeah, they all look alike but they're not."
There was no doubt he was Italian, even before he told me his name -- Angelo. "I'm imported!," he proclaimed. Angelo has been in this country since he was 18, and said you can't really change "my voice" -- meaning his speech pattern and accent -- after about age 12. "But being here a long time, sometimes I can speak like you. I learned it on the street."
"Well, you speak my language much better than I speak yours. I admire you and anyone else who comes to our country and learns our language... since my wife died nearly two years ago, I have a hard time managing eight or ten plants scattered around the house. I think I water them too much."
"I'll be back over here in about twenty minutes. I'll show you how I water them."
We connected back again and now with his watering cart, he took great care showing me his routine and how to gauge a plant's moisture.
We talked some more and then we both resumed our morning routine. But I'll be on the lookout for him and we may even become mall friends.
Walking away reflecting on the encounter it occurred to me -- Angelo tends to each plant in his care just as God tends to all "120 of us," giving each of us exactly what we need -- individually. To any other god, we might all "look alike" as Angelo said; but not so to God -- He knows and calls us by name and "all we have needed [God's] hand hath provided." Thanks be to God!
In a few minutes, another delightful thought showed up. My mission at the mall is to walk, but it's hard to get one's walk done when one stops to visit with the people. That's WHAT HONEY DID all those years at the Tennessee Baptist Convention every Tuesday delivering the paper he office produced on Mondays. Lonnie, her boss and dear friend, jokingly (and lovingly) call it her "hall ministry," and that it was. It was her very favorite "task".
Here's the first stanza of what may have been Honey's favorite hymn in the God, the Sustainer section of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal.
Day by day and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here;
trusting in my Father's wise bestowment, I've no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure give unto each day what He deems best -
lovingly, it's part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest.
Words - Caroline V. Sandell-Berg, 1866.
May each of us encounter an "Angelo" soon.