Twenty years or so ago, in Virginia, more specifically the Front Royal area, I learned a valuable lesson. When I first joined the praise and worship team, they lined me up second to last. Who was last? A woman named, B Tandy. That wasn’t her real name, this African American boisterous woman, had earned that nickname from her kids. She was a beautiful woman that had been through a terrible trauma. After having five daughters, her husband was killed in a motor cycle accident. B Tandy was left alone to raise her children and fend for them the best way she knew how, and that was exactly what she did.
A Tough Woman
B Tandy, a hefty black woman who loved having her hair done up and her nails perfect, had made it through and took care of her kids by herself. She carted them off to every church potluck to provide them meals on the weekends and had other means that helped them survive. Even when the kids were older, B Tandy still did the rounds on the weekend. The woman had church potlucks down to a “t” as well as some other lovely coping skills. I would come to admire that later.
I didn’t understand why the older gals put me between them and B Tandy. It didn’t matter too much to me as I would get to worship with the team the next Sunday. I was excited and eager to take part. Sunday came, and we all filed up on stage and stood on the plush mauve carpet. We stood up there and “entered into” God’s presence. Oh, the joy I felt, eyes closed and amidst the congregation. I was in heavenly realms, lost in love with Jesus. Then, the reason for my position on that stage became clear.
I was pulled out of my moment of bliss by something dark and ugly. The green cloud came over me and instantly offended my nose, pulling me out of heaven. It was B Tandy’s breath. It was so foul that I sang the rest of the time, but my whole mentality changed to trying to avoid that breath. I couldn’t worship or even enjoy the moment. Part of me was angry at the women on the praise and worship team for using me as a buffer. They would never admit it, but I knew.
Maybe a Tic Tac?
I tried to deal with B Tandy’s breath by reaching out and offering her aids. I gave her a mint, and she got the holy ghost and spit it out in the carpet. The next time I offered her one, she didn’t want to take it because she said, “You know what happened last time”. I tried gum too but B Tandy didn’t want to chew gum and worship Jesus. Through all that, we developed a friendship and I started hanging out with her. She broke the ice one night when we rented a hotel room, and she flopped out on the bed, letting out a stream of popping flatulence followed by laughter from both of us.
Trash in the Basement
B Tandy was a unique individual. She often kept new clothes in her trunk and would use those when she hadn’t had time to get to washing. Later, I would find out that she didn’t have any running water in her upstairs bath, so they would carry water from the basement to the main level in order for her to take a bath. That basement was covered with garbage bags filled with I don’t know what. Kind of like B Tandy’s life; it looked good from the outside but there was a lot of junk in disrepair underneath.
A Witnessin‘ We Will Go
B Tandy knew how to get serious though. She told me one day we were “going witnessing”. She wanted to see a woman she had met while working at a post office not far from Washington D.C. On a Sunday afternoon when I didn’t have anything better to do, it sounded fun. B Tandy drove north to Front Royal, a more rural area. We pulled into a driveway and there was a small unpainted Grey wooden house sitting there. She pulled up, put the van in park and said, “Come on”. I hopped out, curious about who this woman was we were about to see.
First Hoarder Home
When we walked in, I hesitated because of what I saw. I had never encountered a hoarder home and didn’t even know what that was. Everywhere I looked I saw paper. Stacks of newspapers were everywhere. On the stove, covering pretty much every square inch of space, stacks and stacks. There was a small path that you could move through the house with. It made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. Who lives like that? I thought to myself. B Tandy was undaunted.
She walked right in and called Cynthia. A woman a bit shorter than me popped out. She had a large bosom, long light brown hair and an oval face. There was nothing intimidating about her. She oozed hurt and pain and B Tandy embraced her as if she was her own child. B Tandy didn’t embrace her children, their relationships had long since withered away. She had spent far too much time in Washington working to be able to parent her daughters as well. B Tandy focused all her love on people like Cynthia and me. I had no family there and B Tandy was notorious for picking up strays.
All Alone and Married
B Tandy spoke with Cynthia for a while as we stood in what I think was a living room. There was really no place to sit down even if we wanted to. While they talked about Jesus, I saw the bedroom out of the corner of my eye. A dirty mattress with no sheets or blankets was laying on the floor. Cynthia was complaining about her husband to B Tandy. She said that he didn’t pay attention to her “no more”, that she was lonely.
Cynthia poured out her heart to B Tandy, and I was there as a silent observer. B Tandy would later share ministry time with me, but for now she considered me an amateur. I watched as Cynthia cried and told us how desperately lonely she was. Cynthia had befriended a squirrel there in that Front Royal shack. That little creature became everything to Cynthia. She told B Tandy that she was so lonely that she put that squirrel in her shirt and it stayed there between her large breasts all day, while she worked at the post office. She made a place for it in her bra.
Swish, Swish Goes The Tail
I couldn’t help the visual. It swept over me as images do when the mind conjures up something. I had to walk outside as I burst into quiet laughter. Pictures of this chesty woman standing at a post office counter with her hidden friend between her boobs. I kept seeing a man walk up to her counter and put a box up there, to witness the swishing of a squirrel tail coming out of her shirt. I couldn’t hold in my giddiness at that point. When it comes to the afternoon, when you are a bit sleepy, laughter often comes easy.
Standin‘ On the Word of God
After composing myself, I came back in to Cynthia discussing the bible with B Tandy. What she said next was a valuable lesson for me. B Tandy was telling her how important reading her bible every day for encouragement was. Cynthia was quick to reply, “I know, I know, you know how they say to stand on the word of God?” B Tandy was nodding her head yes, but she had no idea where the conversation was going. Cynthia continued, “Well, I takes my bible out every mornin’ and I put it on the floor and I stands on it. I look up at the ceilin’ and tell God, I’m standin’ on your word Lord!”
Cynthia meant it with all her heart, and I instantly pitied her. Her squirrel story made much more sense to me now. How in the world could someone get something so wrong? I thought everyone knew what “Standing on the Word of God” meant. Did she even read her bible? Perhaps she stood there for hours at a time, crying out to God. This was the first time I had ever encountered someone like Cynthia. Someone who wasn’t as informed as I was.
Meet me in the Middle
What do you do with such a distorted concept? How do you teach someone who is so childlike in their faith? Do you even need to? My mind had collisions that even I wasn’t aware of at that moment. It taught me a valuable lesson that I now pass on to others. It’s about patience and perseverance, meeting people where they are. Sometimes love is actually enough. All that woman needed was someone to listen, someone to care about her for a few minutes.
I was on a hill in Kazinga, Uganda, East Africa, years later. I hadn’t taught from a pulpit in four years, and I was excited to teach my heart out. My hand was holding five pages of teachings that I was going to roll out that day. The building was small with six wooden tree supports and a tin roof. There was a pile of bricks behind the pulpit, in anticipation of a building to come. Six or so wooden benches were in front of me in one column to the left and one to the right of me. Faces darkened by the Ugandan sun were looking at me in expectation.
When I started to speak, there was a “deer in the headlights” look. I could tell that the people weren’t connecting with me but this was different from when my interpreter wasn’t good at their job. Something was off and I stopped, knowing better, and listened. As I turned around, I heard in my heart, “pray”. I asked Ashley to play her keyboard, and we began to worship. Miracles and signs and wonders broke out in that place in pandemonium. All because I had stopped to listen.
No Ears for the Hurting
People cannot hear when they are hurting. You don’t take a woman who thinks that standing on a bible every day is what God wants her to do and “correct her”. In the same way, the people on that hill in Uganda were hurting and broken. They didn’t need another “teaching”, they needed miracles and signs and wonders. God didn’t disappoint.
Be Sensitive, Be Wise
I have learned that you don’t serve someone coffee when they’re starving, and being sensitive to a human being is more important than form and fashion. In my youth, I didn’t understand that, but now, I can imagine the patience that God extends to us who think we know everything. God probably sees us in our arrogance like I saw that woman standing on her bible. Innocent, so childlike, and so doing the best that we can with what we know. Love is more important than what we will ever know in this life. Love is often all we need.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus gave us those two all important commands, to love God and love others.
Available publications by PK Langley
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PK writes short stories about life. They are in the form of ebooks for $1.37 each. Get them here.
Religious Deconstruction, The Frustrated Grace Series is now available, with over two hundred comic images on Amazon. You can get a preview of every single one here.
All Things Equal, is an exposition for women and how God
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