On special occasions we trek deep into the mountains of West Virginia for family gatherings, which is exactly what we did for Christmas. I love the rustic appeal of the small town where I grew up, one so unpretentious that its charm is not obvious to outsiders. I also take comfort in being with people who have known me all my life.
Unlike the people who come at me in later life to remind me that I’m not meeting their expectations, the people who knew me when always make me feel like I’m exceeding theirs. They put their arms around me and wrap me in unconditional acceptance. I expect the welcome of heaven to be something like that.
I listen as my 89-year-old uncle asks God’s blessing on our Christmas dinner, enjoying the rich inflection of what we claim as a hillbilly upbringing. Soon I focus less on the soothing sound of his voice than on his words. “Thank you for Jesus,” he says, praising God, not with the feebleness of an octogenarian but the strength of a man who still walks with Him. His language is eloquent in its simplicity and all the more powerful because it is softly spoken. My great-uncle is leading us in worship, homespun, the way faith is meant to be lived. I am reminded that, like charity and everything else significant in life, praising God begins at home.
My uncle puts his arm around me as we take our place in the serving line. “I am glad to see you,” he whispers in my ear. “You are one of my favorite people.” I suspect he says that to all his girls. It feels good to hear it.
“Thank you for your beautiful prayer,” I whisper back, wishing everyone has family who helps you humbly praise God. But for those who don’t have the benefit of this great blessing, we have church.