The Church on the Hill

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. — Hebrews 10:25 NLT

 When we moved to the country in 1980, we didn’t need to search far for a church home. A small church, of the same denomination we attended in town, perched on a hill only three miles away in the village of Canoe Ridge. With children ages eleven months and four years, the short distance afforded us the needed time to get everyone ready and still be on time for the service.

It was a simple country church, the kind you see in pictures and paintings: white clapboard siding, double-hung windows, and a spire that reached through the pine trees that surrounded it. The basement Sunday school classrooms were damp, but a dehumidifier, along with the energy of children, chased away the chill. 

We soon found ourselves involved in the life of the congregation—teaching Sunday school, helping with Vacation Bible School and holiday programs, and cleaning the church. Several other couples our age attended, and it wasn’t long before we met in our homes for Bible study, food, fellowship, and just plain fun. We raised our children together, shared our hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, dreams and disappointments. 

A music lover, I volunteered to direct a choir. We sang once a month and practiced after church on Sundays, since we were all there anyway. This was a much better fit for me than supervising the nursery, where I cuddled one child in my lap while two more played kangaroo in the toy box.

The Christmas Eve candlelight service, which we instituted, became the highlight of the year for me. 

We enjoyed carry-in suppers every holiday, with the men serving the women for Mother’s Day. When we first started attending, the dinners were held at a building in Rochester Mills, a few miles from “The Ridge,” as we often called the church. Over time, we dug out a section for a basement kitchen, fellowship room, and food pantry. 

Every summer we drove to Cook Forest for a church picnic, and every fall we bundled up for a hot dog roast and hayride at a nearby lake. We held white elephant sales to raise money. I still remember the retro purse and matching beige patent leather heels that made an appearance every year—disguised, of course. One year the church pianist won the bid then wore them to church the next day! 

Our pastor was a true man of God. I once told him when I looked at him, I saw Jesus. When my mother died in 1986, he and his wife made the two-hour drive to the funeral home. And this was a man who worked a full-time job and shepherded us “part-time.” He didn’t just preach the Word, he lived it. He set the bar, and we were better, truer Christians for it.

Many of the folks have since passed on; the kids are all grown up and have families of their own. But the bond we shared remains, for we were, are, and always will be family. 

So when I hear someone say, “I don’t do church,” I think, “You don’t know what you’re missing!”

 Thank you, Father, for the love we shared and the friendships we forged at the little church on the hill. Amen.

Read and reflect on Acts 2:42–47.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God, © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. 

Sharon’s Hands

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash                      

She … willingly works with her hands … she extends her hands to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy … give her of the fruit of her hands.–Proverbs 31:13, 20, 31 NKJV

One Saturday several years ago, my friend Sharon treated me to a girls’ day out. The daylong event was a “HeartSpa Getaway” held at a local Christian campground and included activities to nourish, refresh and renew both body and spirit.

In addition to enjoying inspirational music provided by a women’s singing group and searching soul and Scripture, we also pampered our hands, faces and feet.

Our first pampering station was for our hands. First we rubbed them with an exfoliating scrub, then slathered on a soothing lotion. The next step I was a bit hesitant about—dipping my hands in a crock-pot containing liquid paraffin. I was afraid it would be too hot. But it wasn’t, and as soon as I brought my hands out, I was instructed to hold them together in a prayer position. My folded hands were then encased in a plastic bag and wrapped with a hand towel. While we waited for the paraffin, plastic and towel to do their therapeutic work, we were to pray with and for our partners.

Sharon and I clasped our towel-clad hands and began praying. As I prayed for Sharon, whom I’ve known for over 40 years, I envisioned her hands—long and slender, with nails clipped short so they wouldn’t interfere with the work she has to do.

I remembered when these hands brought me homemade chicken soup when I was in bed recovering from my second C-section. She hadn’t known it, but I’d asked God for some homemade chicken soup when I was still in the hospital.

These hands, I realized, have spent a lifetime doing for others—cooking, cleaning, mending, gardening, canning—the million and one things that need done for a family. These hands have written countless notes of encouragement, slipped uncounted dollar bills into scores of needy hands. They could be counted on to do what needs to be done. They’d held sick children, changed messy diapers, cleaned up puke, scrubbed bathrooms, cut hair, washed dogs, wrapped gifts, rubbed backs, blew kisses, prepared Bible lessons.

They’ve been bitten, blistered, burned, calloused and cut, yet still wave a friendly greeting in a grocery store, on the street, in church. As busy as these hands are, they always take time to comfort. They’ve been clasped together in prayer for others, and they’ve grasped the hands of others as she prayed for them.

The hands are the instruments of the heart. Sharon’s hands are giving hands, for her heart overflows with kindness, compassion and love.

I thought of my daughter’s dog, Tess, rescued from an animal shelter. Tess was afraid of hands and slinked away in cowering fear when a hand, however loving, got too close. Who knows what cruelties were inflicted on her by hands that wanted only to dominate or harm?

Hands can hit, pinch, pound, punch, slam and slap. A closed hand is tight and tense. Hands that grasp and cling when it’s time to let go cannot be open to receive.

Sharon’s hands are no longer supple, smooth and nimble. They bear the scars of a lifetime of love. But they are not empty. They overflow with blessings poured out from her heavenly Father, blessings she passes on to others.

I have no choice over how pretty my hands are—whether they’re long and slender or wide and knuckley. But, as Sharon likes to say, pretty is as pretty does.

I choose what these hands do. They can lend a hand, pass on a hand-me-down, give a hand up. They can be the hands of God in a needy world.

Have you taken a good look at your hands lately?

Dear God, thank you for Sharon’s hands and the many hands that have met my needs over the years. Bless them, O Lord. Forgive me for the times my hands have hurt others, and help me to forgive and forget those hands that have hurt me. Show me how to use my hands for Your work. Amen.

Read and reflect on Proverbs 31:10–31