Our family was invited to a fundraiser at a small, old church attended by one of Fred's co-workers. The co-worker plays in a band that would be performing, and we would get to enjoy an all-you-can-eat chili cook-off. Admittedly, I rode to the church with Fred and the girls with an attitude of, "I can tolerate this for a few hours." I was far from excited or even interested.
We drove out of our suburban neighborhood into a much more rural area so I wasn't surprised to find country folk staring curiously at our little family when we walked into their church. The fellowship hall was decorated in a wild west theme and we lined up to accept our bowls of chili, nacho chips, and home-baked desserts, and then sat down with Fred's friends. The chili was surprisingly good, but I settled in for what I thought would be mindless small talk and amateurish entertainment. God forgive me.
The band members, about eight men and women in their fifties and sixties with a couple of younger ones thrown in the mix, gave a disclaimer at the start of their show. They normally do not play country-western or rock music but had practiced for several weeks for this event. The money raised from their Texas Night would support a youth mission trip. This musical group normally plays contemporary worship music on Sunday mornings. I gave them credit for their efforts in working hard to bring this event together. I decided to sit back, listen, and learn from these kind people.
The band started with "Long Tall Texan" to get everyone in the mood. It reminded me of our time in Mustang, Oklahoma and the Bean Suppers cooked by the local firemen on the 4th of July. We would listen to live music broadcast over loud speakers so all the people in the park could enjoy it while they ate their beans and and waited for the fireworks. I could have stayed forever in Oklahoma. That simple life suited me perfectly. As the music played, I thought back to those days when my boys were little, days as wide and endless as the rim of the earth that you can see in every direction under the vast, cloudless sky.
Next the band played "Proud Mary." I was transported back to 1969 and the Mississippi River Festivals of my teenage days, lying in the grass with thousands of other kids, listening to the classic rock bands belting out the cries of our generation. I noticed these band members here tonight seemed to really get into this music. They rattled and rolled and sang with enthusiasm and maybe even with a faraway look in their eyes. As they continued to play, each song evoked old memories that began a slide show in my mind. Amazingly, I was having fun, sharing a moment with these fellow old-timers.
Toward the end of the set the gray-haired lead guitarist came down from the stage and churned his arms in time to "Locomotion." Yes, he was inviting us to follow. Old folks, little ones, parents and teens, linked arms to waists and strutted around the fellowship hall in time to the music, laughing all the time. Our train wove in and out of corridors, into the kitchen, back and forth and around again to the hall. The girls were delighted to see Mom and Dad acting so silly. They were equally thrilled to see us slow dance to Eric Clapton's "You Look Wonderful Tonight." All my years have culminated in this place, secure in the arms of my one true love.
I watched the band the rest of the night with new respect. Each of us has traveled a long journey. Life has been good, sad, tragic and wonderful. It doesn't matter where we've been. It's where we are now that counts. But in part, the past made us who we are today. The old rockers now sing praise songs. The secrets of life, hidden from view when I was younger, have been unveiled. Relationships fail, children grow up, parents die, and God is always there to pull us up out of the muck and mire of foolish choices. The journey begins slow and steady but as we near the end it gains momentum until we are racing at breakneck speed, all the while trying desperately to slow down. All along the way, God surprises us with gifts of joy. Life is rich and full and precious because of its brevity.
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die...God has made everything beautiful in its time. Ecclesiastes 3.