“God loves me,” I hear as the church door swings open. Shirley has arrived.
A mentally challenged senior citizen, she is part of the local community living group. She shows up every Sunday at church for service wearing the same drool-stained coat, which has obviously seen better days.
On my way to the front of the sanctuary, I stop at her pew – the same pew every Sunday – to greet her.
“I know you,” she says to me. “What’s your name? Bernice? You gonna sing today? I’m gonna sing. I’m a good singer, aren’t I?”
* * *
With something to say about almost every situation, Shirley is keenly observant of her fellow worshippers. Vignettes of past Sundays fill my mind.
“Aw, look at the baby. Can I see your baby? Look at her, she’s beautiful! Oh, look, she’s smiling at me! She likes me, don’t she. Aw, she’s beautiful!”
Interrupting the announcements, Shirley’s loud, excited voice often belies her diminutive stature. “I rode a motorcycle! Pastor! Guess what? This week. I really did. I...”
“That sounds exciting, Shirley,” the pastor replied from the pulpit. “Let’s talk after church. I’ll come back there and you can tell me all about it.”
“Okay... I’m gonna tell ya all about it later.”
* * *
Two weeks previous, Shirley asked our pastor if she could sing for everybody. Today, she walks to the front, in her quick, shuffle-step way, wearing a new dress and necklace. Standing at the microphone, she declares, “I’m gonna sing now.”
A note sounds and Shirley’s voice rises in the sanctuary: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now, I see.”
She sings through the entire song, from memory. Some of the words aren’t exact, but she sings with conviction. She knows these words are true because she has experienced it.
Overwhelmed by God’s presence and love, I smile through tears as Shirley quietly leaves the stage and approaches my pew.
“I done good, didn’t I?” she asks me.
“It was beautiful, Shirley,” I say honestly.
Jesus’ love shone through God’s beloved child, Shirley, that morning, even more than usual. A true gift of love to us all.