Have you ever heard of Thelma Taylor?
Few of us on this planet had the blessing of knowing her. She lived in a tiny house in a tiny town and attended a tiny church. To know her, one would also have to live in that tiny town and attend that tiny church…
Thank God, I did.
Every Sunday growing up, I saw her at church with her husband, Lynn. Lynn was a big personality and, as a young child, my eyes and my attention were usually drawn to him when I would see them together. He liked to tease the children at church and I was always intrigued by what he had to say.
But Lynn died, and I grew up, and that’s when I started to take notice of Thelma.
Beautiful hair, white as new snow.
A sweet smile that lit up her entire face.
A kind word always on her lips.
Our church split right down the middle about a decade ago, and my family was left with a group of people we had always known and loved, but to be honest, had spent very little time with. Most of them were senior citizens, and they had functioned in their place – at prayer meetings, at Young at Heart events, at Sunday morning worship – and we had functioned in ours – at VBS, at youth events, at children’s church, on mission trips…
But that summer following the split, I saw something magical happen. A body came together, young and old, and did what was necessary to keep the church alive. The split was tragic, but it allowed me to see with fresh eyes the treasure that had been sitting in my church all those years. We had learned to do all the work and fun without them, and as a result, they had been delegated to pouring drinks at potlucks and singing in the adult choir on Sunday mornings. But now…well, now we needed them again, and they answered the call with eagerness.
I suppose this is when my real love for the Young at Heart group began to grow by leaps and bounds.
I’ll never forget watching her, a widow in her 80’s, chasing behind her large group of 4 and 5 year olds at Vacation Bible School. Half of our usual workers were now attending church up the hill, and we had to use everybody and anybody wherever we possibly could. At the end of each day, the entire lot of us would collapse on the couches in the foyer and laugh as we – all of us, in our 20’s OR in our 80’s – tried to catch our breath! How God drew us together that summer – and by His grace, kept our doors open.
My friendship with Thelma began to grow, and I was devastated to leave her and many others behind when I joined Mr. Gore at seminary in Kentucky.
But God had a unique plan for us that would bring us all back together again in this church were our hearts had been bound together, and Thelma was soon on the pulpit committee that called my husband as pastor. There is so much to the story, but I will never forget her joy to be included in this important group of people. She was just beside herself and, chuckling with her hand on her chest said “Me?! Nobody has ever asked me to be a part of something like this!” It brought us such joy to see her serve in this capacity, and our hearts were blessed beyond measure to be ministered to by her during another difficult hour in our church home.
We have been through so many ups and downs in the last 12 years, but all along the way, Thelma was there to encourage and help us, and most importantly, to pray for us. Prayer was her language, and I’ll never forget sitting in her dark living room one night, listening to her pleas to God on behalf of our church body. Our position on the globe was minuscule, and the world had no idea or care that the 3 of us were there, praying together, but it felt important and powerful and oh so sweet.
Nor will I forget the day we were all parting ways after a Young at Heart outing to Cracker Barrel and I heard a yelp. Turning around, I saw her lying on the concrete, face-down, a small group of people around her. She had missed her step and taken a nose-dive in the parking lot. As I sat with her in the fellowship hall and held her hand, the bump on her eye grew to the size of a golf ball and my heart ached inside of me. But my 88-year old friend had no breaks, just bruises…and the doctors were shocked to find that the only pill she was on was a daily vitamin! None of us had any idea that Thelma was the most healthy woman in our congregation!
And then came the heartbreaking news a couple of years ago that Thelma would be moving away from us to retire to the Baptist Village in Oklahoma City. Before I could even digest this sadness, we had thrown her a going- away party and she was gone. There was – and still is – a giant hole in our congregation where she sat and moved and prayed and lived and loved and encouraged and ministered.
We were able to stop by and see her from time to time, the best visit taking place as we drove her across the city to have breakfast at Cracker Barrel once more. After eating, Mr. Gore did me the great kindness of taking the children to play with toys in the general store, and Thelma and I sat and talked and talked and talked, for nearly two hours! We were walking once more through difficult days in the ministry, and this meeting with her was like a feast for my weary soul, giving me hope and confidence, much like that quiet night in her home where we prayed together.
And then there was our last meeting, 5 days ago, at a hospital in Edmond, Oklahoma. Thelma had recently been feeling poorly and after a few tests, had been diagnosed with leukemia. Her good health took a very quick turn and she was not doing well at all. After speaking with her on the phone, Mr. Gore told me that we should hurry if we wanted to see her; I’m so grateful to my Mom for keeping our children on short notice so we could make the trip.
Finding her sleeping in her room, Mr. Gore went to ask a nurse what we should do while I took a moment to gather myself back in the hallway.; tears had filled my eyes the moment I saw her and a lump had lodged itself in my throat. “Wake her up.” the nurse assured him. I knew then that Thelma was not long for this world.
When her eyes opened and she saw us there, her face lit up and that smile that cheered me on so many occasions warmed my sad heart. We talked as long as she was able and then we prayed together once more, holding her hands, caressing her face and combing her beautiful white hair with our fingers. It was such an honor to minister to her and I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to tell her one last time how much she has meant to us and how deeply we love her.
Thelma died this Sunday morning.
And the little girl who lived in the tiny town and went to the tiny church is shedding tears.
Because the world may not have known Thelma and what a dear sister in the Lord and what a heroine in the faith and what a teacher in prayer she was…
but I did.
And oh what a difference she made in my life.