The other day I noticed a woman who I immediately liked. I was in worship at the Bishop Baughman Memorial UMC in central Freetown. She was wearing all white. Dressed to the nines. A woman I was sure must have celebrated her 80th birthday more than a few years ago.
Maybe it was because I'm in a country whose life expectancy is 51 years old, and to see a woman in her late years is a rarity. Maybe it was because during the offering time, even though she walked in a slow bent shuffle with the help of a young man holding her arm, she stood up to bring her money forward like everybody else. She was letting nobody deposit her offering on her behalf. She would do it herself. Maybe it was because she reminded me something of my Grandma Fran. But I was immediately taken with her. Truth be told it was her face. She looked strong, like she had a lot of life behind her. She looked wise, like she had seen some things. She looked happy, like she still had reason to get out bed even after all these years. I remember thinking, I wish I could take a picture of her. But I didn’t know how I could do that without being intrusive.
Well at the end of the service, there is often a time where people come forward for a blessing. Anybody who has gotten married in the last week. Anybody who needs special prayer. Anybody who has graduated in the last week. Anybody who has had a birthday. They all come forward. And this woman came forward.
When she got to the front for prayer, somebody gave her a chair to sit on since she couldn’t keep herself up like the others standing around her. And the pastors prayed their prayer over the group of maybe twenty or thirty people up front at the altar. Then the prayer finished and everybody went back to their seat. Everybody except this woman. She stayed right where she was sitting in the middle of the aisle at the front of the church.
At first the pastors didn’t notice that she hadn’t left. And then, I’m not exactly sure how it happened. Did she get their attention? Or did they go and ask her if she needed help back to her spot? I’m don’t know. But I do know all of the sudden there was a gaggle of pastors surrounding her and some kind of fuss.
It took a few seconds of talking and we all waited to see what was happening. Then finally the Senior Pastor, Rev. Daisy Gbloh, smiled and stood up and said, “She says it’s her birthday today and she’s not leaving here without her blessing.” A blessing just for her on the day of her birthday. “I’m not leaving this spot without it.”
There she was, a little old lady, holding the rest of the congregation hostage because she was not going to let that benediction happen before she got the blessing that she dressed up and came to church for.
And so the pastors came one by one to lay hands on her. Rev. Gbloh prayed for long life and a blessed year on this her birthday.
She turned 97 that day.
I knew I liked her. I’m always so taken with people like her. She follows in the line of Jacob. A line of people who are bold enough to claim...no, demand the blessing that they know God is standing eager to give. I always feel too unworthy, too small, too who-do-you-think-you-are-anyway to be so brazen. But I think God honors the bold. I am inspired by Jacob. I am inspired by this, one of my mothers whose name I do not know, for her stubborn refusal to leave without the blessing that, like the rest of us, she has done nothing to earn and yet by her very createdness so richly deserves.